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Biology LibreTexts

44.3E: Temperate Forests

  • Page ID
    14162
  • Temperate forests are characterized by fluctuating seasonal temperatures and constant-but-moderate rainfall.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Recognize the distingushing chracteristics of temperate forests

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • Temperate forests are the most common biome in eastern North America, Western Europe, Eastern Asia, Chile, and New Zealand.
    • Temperatures in temperate forests fluctuate; there are defined growing seasons during spring, summer, and early fall.
    • Because temperate forests have moderate annual precipitation, the dominant plants are the deciduous trees.
    • Deciduous trees experience a dormant period in the winter, which is why temperate forests have less net productivity than tropical forests.
    • Temperate forests are more open than tropical wet forests since their trees do not grow as tall.
    • The soils of the temperate forests are rich in inorganic and organic nutrients; this is due to the thick layer of leaf litter on forest floors, which returns nutrients to the soil.

    Key Terms

    • deciduous: of or pertaining to trees which lose their leaves in winter or the dry season
    • temperate forest: forest concentrations formed in the northern and southern hemisphere, or in temperate regions; main characteristics include wide leaves, large and tall trees, and seasonal vegetation

    Temperate Forests

    Temperate forests are the most common biome in eastern North America, Western Europe, Eastern Asia, Chile, and New Zealand. This biome is found throughout mid-latitude regions. Temperatures ranging between -30°C – 30°C (-22°F – 86°F) drop below freezing on an annual basis, resulting in defined growing seasons during the spring, summer, and early fall. Precipitation is relatively constant throughout the year, ranging between 75 cm and 150 cm (29.5–59 in).

    Because of the moderate, annual rainfall and temperatures, deciduous trees are the dominant plant in this biome. Deciduous trees lose their leaves each fall, remaining leafless in the winter; thus, no photosynthesis occurs during the dormant winter period. Each spring, new leaves appear as the temperature increases. Because of the dormant period, the net primary productivity of temperate forests is less than that of tropical wet forests. In addition, temperate forests show less diversity of tree species than do tropical wet forest biomes.

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    Deciduous trees: Deciduous trees, those that lose their leaves seasonally, are the dominant plant in the temperate forest.

    The trees of the temperate forests leaf out and shade much of the ground; however, this biome is more open than tropical wet forests because trees in the temperate forests do not grow as tall as the trees in tropical wet forests. The soils of the temperate forests are rich in inorganic and organic nutrients due to the thick layer of leaf litter on forest floors. As this leaf litter decays, nutrients are returned to the soil. The leaf litter also protects soil from erosion, insulates the ground, and provides habitats for invertebrates (such as the pill bug or roly-poly, Armadillidium vulgare) and their predators, such as the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus).

    Organisms Found in Temperate Deciduous Forests

    The leaf litter is home to invertebrates (such as the pill bug or roly-poly, Armadillidium vulgare) and their predators, including the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus). Pileated woodpeckers depend upon dead or dying trees as a source of food and for constructing their nests, and many migratory birds, such as the spring warblers, time their arrival to coincide with the opening of the tree canopy, which provides the insects that are their principal food sources for raising young. Many well-known animals are found in temperate deciduous forests including squirrels, deer, and bears. The top predators in deciduous forest were once wolves and cougars, but their populations have been in decline.

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    White-tailed deer: Deer such as the white-tailed deer of North America are common inhabitants of temperate forests.