Temperate forests are those found in the moderate climates between the tropics and boreal regions in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. They may also be called “four-season forests” because the midlatitude climates harboring them tend to experience four distinct seasons. A vast diversity of different forest types make up this broad category, from the broadly distributed temperate deciduous forests to pine woods and relatively geographically restricted temperate rainforests.
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Temperate forest often refers specifically to the temperate deciduous forests widespread in eastern North America and Eurasia, but other temperate-forest types exist in the planet's middle latitudes where moderate, frequently four-season climates encourage diverse tree growth.
Locations and Climates
Temperate forests range across large areas of North America and Eurasia as well as smaller portions of the Southern Hemisphere. Temperate deciduous forests, the “signature” temperate forest type, reach their greatest extent in the eastern United States and Canada, Europe, China, Japan and western Russia. Climatically speaking, temperate forests tend to experience fairly long growing seasons and decent amounts of rainfall that may be spread fairly evenly across the year or concentrated in a particular season; deciduous hardwoods, which lose their leaves in winter, dominate most major temperate forests. Drier temperate climates in, for example, western North America may see evergreen pines and other drought-tolerant conifers proliferate. Temperate rainforests, two-thirds of which lie in North America’s Pacific Northwest, experience milder, moister, often maritime-influenced climates than other temperate forests; those of the Pacific Northwest are unique in the dominance of conifers over hardwoods.
Seasons in a Temperate Deciduous Forest
During the winter, a temperate deciduous forest looks dead because leaves have fallen off most of the trees. Wildlife in these forests may endure the winter or migrate to warmer climates. Spring sees a rebirth of sorts with hardwoods leafing out and a proliferation of flowering shrubs and forbs. As days begin shortening and temperatures dropping in fall, the leaves of deciduous trees change color and begin dropping, while animals begin storing food for the winter and/or packing on body fat for winter survival or the energetic demands of migration.
The Flora of Temperate Forests
The soils of many temperate forests are fertile and support a rich diversity of trees. Temperate deciduous forests often feature varieties such as maples, oaks, elms and birches. Conifers such as pines and hemlocks may play a minority role in these hardwood-dominated communities, but, again, these needle-leaved trees may also form the majority in certain temperate ecosystems, such as the North American temperate rainforest and the pine forests of the southeastern U.S. A sub-variety of temperate forest found in so-called Mediterranean climates commonly features evergreen broadleaf trees, such as “live oaks” in California and parts of Southern Europe and eucalpts in Australia. Mosses, ferns and understory shrubs are common in many temperate forests.
The Fauna of Temperate Forests
With their moderate climate and typically rich array of food resources, temperate forests tend to support a great diversity of wildlife. Koalas, possums, wombats and other marsupials roam Australian temperate forests, while in North American and Eurasian ecosystems deer, bears, foxes, wolves, squirrels and rabbits are common inhabitants. China’s temperate forests play host to giant and red pandas, which mostly eat bamboo. Many migratory songbirds nest in temperate forests, taking advantage of their spring and summer bounty of blossoms, berries, seeds and insects.
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