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The net primary productivity of boreal forests is lower than that of temperate forests and tropical wet forests. The aboveground biomass of boreal forests is high because these slow-growing tree species are long lived and accumulate standing biomass over time. Plant species diversity is less than that seen in temperate forests and tropical wet forests. Boreal forests lack the pronounced elements of the layered forest structure seen in tropical wet forests. The structure of a boreal forest is often only a tree layer and a ground layer ( [link] ). When conifer needles are dropped, they decompose more slowly than broad leaves; therefore, fewer nutrients are returned to the soil to fuel plant growth.

 The photo shows a boreal forest with a uniform low layer of plants and tall conifers scattered throughout the landscape. The snowcapped mountains of the Alaska Range are in the background.
The boreal forest (taiga) has low lying plants and conifer trees. (credit: L.B. Brubaker)

Arctic tundra

The Arctic tundra lies north of the subarctic boreal forest and is located throughout the Arctic regions of the northern hemisphere ( [link] ). The average winter temperature is -34 °C (-34 °F) and the average summer temperature is from 3 °C to 12 °C (37 °F–52 °F). Plants in the arctic tundra have a very short growing season of approximately 10–12 weeks. However, during this time, there are almost 24 hours of daylight and plant growth is rapid. The annual precipitation of the Arctic tundra is very low with little annual variation in precipitation. And, as in the boreal forests, there is little evaporation due to the cold temperatures.

Plants in the Arctic tundra are generally low to the ground ( [link] ). There is little species diversity, low net primary productivity, and low aboveground biomass. The soils of the Arctic tundra may remain in a perennially frozen state referred to as permafrost    . The permafrost makes it impossible for roots to penetrate deep into the soil and slows the decay of organic matter, which inhibits the release of nutrients from organic matter. During the growing season, the ground of the Arctic tundra can be completely covered with plants or lichens.

 This photo shows a flat plain covered with shrub. Many of the shrubs are covered in pink flowers.
Low-growing plants such as shrub willow dominate the tundra landscape, shown here in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (credit: USFWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)

Watch this Assignment Discovery: Biomes video for an overview of biomes. To explore further, select one of the biomes on the extended playlist: desert, savanna, temperate forest, temperate grassland, tropic, tundra.

Section summary

The Earth has terrestrial biomes and aquatic biomes. Aquatic biomes include both freshwater and marine environments. There are eight major terrestrial biomes: tropical wet forests, savannas, subtropical deserts, chaparral, temperate grasslands, temperate forests, boreal forests, and Arctic tundra. The same biome can occur in different geographic locations with similar climates. Temperature and precipitation, and variations in both, are key abiotic factors that shape the composition of animal and plant communities in terrestrial biomes. Some biomes, such as temperate grasslands and temperate forests, have distinct seasons, with cold weather and hot weather alternating throughout the year. In warm, moist biomes, such as the tropical wet forest, net primary productivity is high, as warm temperatures, abundant water, and a year-round growing season fuel plant growth. Other biomes, such as deserts and tundra, have low primary productivity due to extreme temperatures and a shortage of available water.

Art connections

[link] Which of the following statements about biomes is false?

  1. Chaparral is dominated by shrubs.
  2. Savannas and temperate grasslands are dominated by grasses.
  3. Boreal forests are dominated by deciduous trees.
  4. Lichens are common in the arctic tundra.

[link] C. Boreal forests are not dominated by deciduous trees.

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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