Coniferous Forest: Characteristics, Flora, Fauna, Climate, Location

The coniferous forests are vegetation with trees class gymnosperms conifers that grow in cold areas, temperate and subtropical. Conifers are woody plants with seeds that do not form fruit and that have resins in their wood.

There are basically three types of coniferous forests in the world, the most extensive being the boreal forest or taiga. On the other hand there are the temperate coniferous forest and the subtropical coniferous forest.

These forests are characterized by having a less complex structure than both temperate and tropical angiosperm forests. There are also mixed forests, where conifers coexist with species of angiosperms.

These forests develop in cold, temperate, and subtropical climates, both in the northern and southern hemispheres. Therefore they are subjected to a marked seasonality, varying the duration of the seasons according to latitude.

Characteristics of the coniferous forest

As they are species that must survive extreme climates, conifers have a series of characteristics:


They are a class of the gymnosperms group, which are seed plants that, unlike angiosperms, do not produce fruits. They are called conifers because in most cases their female reproduction structures have a conical shape, called cones or strobili.

In other cases these strobili are round in shape, as in cypresses and are called galbules and in most species, the trees show a cone shape. They are woody plants, trees or shrubs, with resinous wood and simple leaves like needles, scales or narrow-bladed.


Their evergreen leaves allow them to make the most of the short vegetative season, which is when they can begin to work on photosynthesis without having to wait for a new leaf to emerge, as is the case with deciduous species.

In this way, a coniferous plant leaf can last up to seven years, with which its tops are progressively renewed. This is how they resist very cold winters and dry summers.

Plant structure

Conifers form forests of little complexity, being more evident in the taiga or boreal forest, where a single layer of trees can be observed with a very sparse understory. This understory is made up of some bushes and abundant lichens and mosses.

In other cases, a second layer of trees is formed, composed of species of angiosperms (broadleaf or broad-leaved plants). Likewise, there are juvenile individuals of the upper canopy species.

The upper canopy can reach up to 75 m high south of the taiga, where the cold climate is less extreme. Further north, on the border with the tundra, the height of the canopy decreases (40-50 m), due to low temperatures and freezing winter winds.

On the other hand, although temperate coniferous forests do not develop much greater structural complexity, they do present a more structured understory. These forests present an arboreal stratum, rarely two and an understory with a diversity of herbs, shrubs, mosses, lichens and ferns.


Its very dark colored leaves favor the absorption and use of light in short summers, to take full advantage of photosynthesis.

Resins and antifreeze

Coniferous leaves have a special resin that prevents water loss. In addition, its outer cells have a kind of natural antifreeze that prevents them from freezing at low temperatures.

Types of coniferous forests

Worldwide there are three basic types of coniferous forests, defined by the climatic zone where they develop according to latitude and altitude.

Boreal forest or taiga

It is in the northernmost latitudes, on the edge of the tree line. It is characterized by forming large areas made up of little diversity of species and with little vertical stratification.

Temperate coniferous forest

It is found in the temperate climate zones of both hemispheres, and has a greater diversity of species and structural complexity. In this latitudinal strip (latitudes 23 ° and 66 °) in the northern hemisphere, coniferous forests are also formed in a Mediterranean climate.

Subtropical coniferous forest

It is established on the border between the temperate and tropical zones, or in high mountain tropical zones. They even include tropical species in the understory or even climbers and epiphytes. The diversity is greater than in the other types of coniferous forests.


About 670 species of conifers are recognized worldwide, divided into at least 6 families throughout the planet. However, its greatest diversity occurs in temperate and cold zones of both hemispheres.

In the coniferous forests of the northern hemisphere, the species of the families Pinaceae, Cupressaceae, Taxaceae and Sciadopityaceae predominate. The Podocarpaceae family is also found in tropical areas of this hemisphere.

While in the southern hemisphere the Araucariaceae and Podocarpaceae predominate, and depending on the latitude and more specific geographic location, the specific species vary.

Boreal forest or taiga

Pinaceae species predominate, especially genera such as Larix, Pinus, Spruce and Abies. Of the genreLarix (larch) there are about 13 species in taiga forests such as the European larch (Larix decidua) and in Siberia the Siberian larch (Larix sibirica).

Likewise, other species such as Abies sibirica, Pinus sibirica and Spruce obovata , typical of the so-called dark taiga. While in the clear taiga there are species ofLarix that lose their leaves in autumn, such as Larix decidua, Larix cajanderi and Larix gmelinii.

For its part, in the boreal forest of North America is the black fir (Mariana spruce) and white fir (Picea glauca).

Temperate coniferous forest

In the northern hemisphere the species of Pinus, like Aleppo pinesPinus halepensis), wild (Pinus sylvestris) and the American white pine (Pinus strobus). Also species of other genera such as cedars (Cedrus spp.), and firs (Abies spp.) such as Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

In the same way, other families of conifers are present, such as cupresáceas with cypresses (Cupressus spp.) and junipers and junipers (Juniperusspp.). Likewise, the redwoods are cupresáceas (Sequoia sempervirens), which form forests in the valleys of California and can reach up to 115 m in height and 8 m in diameter.

Likewise, there are temperate coniferous forests in swampy areas, with species of the genus Taxodium like the cypress of the swampsTaxodium distichum) in the Mississippi River area.

In the temperate coniferous forests of the southern hemisphere, species of the families Araucariaceae and Podocarpaceae predominate. Araucariaceae includes three genera, which areAraucaria, Agathis and Wollemia, while Podocarpaceae has 19 genera.

In the coniferous forests of Chile and Argentina, various species of Araucarialarge. Such as the pehuén or araucano pine ( Araucaria araucana ) and the Paraná pine (Araucaria angustifolia).

In Oceania there are Araucaria bidwillii, Araucaria columnaris and Araucaria cunninghamii, among other. And the tallest native tree (50 m high) in the southern American cone is the Patagonian larch (Fitzroya cupressoid).

On the other hand, in the tropics, forest vegetation formations dominated by conifers are very scarce and are restricted to Podocarpaceae species.


North Hemisphere

In the coniferous forests of this hemisphere, the gradient of animal diversity ranges from low to high from taiga to temperate forests. In these forests live the wolf (Canis lupus) and the bear (Ursus americanus and Ursus arctos), the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), The moose (Moose moose) and the fox (Vulpes vulpes).

In temperate zones are the wild boar (Sus scrofa), the red squirrel (Scurius vulgaris), the common deer (Cervus elaphus), the Lynx (Lynx spp.) and numerous species of birds. In the forests of Eastern Europe it is common to find the European bison (Bison bonasus).

In North America live the beaver (Castor canadensis), the Canadian otter (Lontra canadensis) and the puma (Puma concolor). For its part, Mexico is home to the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and the arboreal anteater (Tamandua Mexican ).

Southern hemisphere

The temperate coniferous forests of Chile are home to species such as the chingue or skunk (Chinga conepatus), the puma and the huemul deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus). In addition, there are the small pudu deer (Pudu pudu), the wild cat placed it (Felis colocola) and the wink (Leopardus guigna).

The forests of Australia and other areas of Oceania are inhabited by various marsupials, rodents and birds. For example, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) in the forests of this island in the south of mainland Australia.

Tasmanian devil


The taiga

The boreal forest or taiga grows in the cold and humid climate with short hot and dry summers of the latitudes near the polar desert. Here the average annual temperatures are around -3 to -8 ºC with temperatures above 10 ºC in summer.

While rainfall is variable from 150 to 1,000 mm per year. Due to the moisture present in the soil, due to low evaporation and low temperatures, permafrost (frozen subsoil layer) is formed.

Temperate coniferous forest

These forests develop in temperate climates where the average temperature is around 18ºC and rainfall varies between 400 and 2,000 mm per year. These are generally mountainous areas, subject to a seasonal climate, with four defined seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter).

Summers in these regions are hot and humid, and in Mediterranean areas drier with an average temperature above 10 ºC. The most humid temperate coniferous forests are located in California, in small areas of deep valleys.

The forests present in Chile and Argentina, as well as those of New Zealand and Australia, are also very humid. In coastal areas, the marine influence causes more temperate winters, while in continental areas they are more rigorous.

Subtropical coniferous forest

These forests develop in a temperate and dry climate, with average temperatures of 18 ºC, on the border between the temperate and tropical zones. In tropical mountainous areas, at altitudes above 1,000 meters above sea level, precipitation is greater than 1,500 mm per year and average temperatures are 22 ºC.

Location in the world

The taiga

The taiga or boreal forest extends in a wide strip to the north of the northern hemisphere, both in North America and in Eurasia. It covers Alaska (USA), the Yukon (Canada), northern Europe and Asia, with the largest extensions in Siberia.

Temperate coniferous forest

It stretches discontinuously from the west coast of North America to the east coast, and south across the Rocky Mountains. From there it enters Mexico through the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental. In California they range from 30 to 600 meters above sea level on the coastline.

Then it is located in Eurasia also discontinuously, from the Iberian Peninsula and Scotland to the Far East, including Japan and North Africa, in the Mediterranean area. In the Himalayas, these forests are found at 3,000 and 3,500 meters above sea level, covering India, Pakistan and Nepal.

In the southern hemisphere they are located in the center and south of Chile and southwest of Argentina, north of Uruguay, east of Paraguay, and south of Brazil. While in Oceania they are located in Australia, New Caledonia, New Zealand and Tasmania.

Subtropical coniferous forest

There are coniferous forests in the subtropical areas of Mexico, the coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua, and the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Bermuda). For its part, in Asia they develop in subtropical areas of India (Himalayas), the Philippines and Sumatra.

Similarly, there are small areas of mixed coniferous (podocarp) forests in the high mountains of the tropical Andes.

Coniferous forests in Mexico

In Mexico, both temperate and subtropical coniferous forests grow, and there is the greatest diversity of species of the genus Pinus. This genus of conifers has 110 species worldwide and in Mexico there are 47 of them.

In total in Mexico there are 95 species of conifers representing 14% of the world diversity of this group. In almost all the mountains of Mexico there are pine forests, with species such as the ocote blanco (Pinus montezumae) and Chinese pine (Pinus leiophylla).

These coniferous forests occupy large areas of the north of the country in mountainous areas, especially in the Sierra Madre Occidental. In this mountain range, in addition to pine forests, there are small patches of ayarín forests (species of the generaSpruce and Psuedotsuga).

While in the Sierra Madre del Sur there are patches of cupresaceous forest that in Mexico they call cedars, as Cupressus benthami and Cupressus arizonica. In these forests there is also the white cedar (Cupressus lindleyi) with a diameter of 3 m and more than 200 years old.

Also in these mountains are the so-called oyamel forests (Religious abies), living with the ocote (Pinus spp.) and fir (Abies duranguensis). Likewise, species ofJuniperus (Cupressaceae) forming the táscate forests, as these species are called.

Coniferous forests in Colombia

Colombia is in the middle of the tropical zone and as such the diversity of native conifers is very scarce, being restricted to the Podocarpaceae family. The species of this family were abundant in the high Andean mountains, in Cundinamarca, Quindío and Nariño.

Likewise, they were in the departments of Huila, Norte de Santander, Cesar and in Magdalena in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, but their populations have been reduced due to their exploitation for wood. In Colombia there are species of three genera of podocarp,Decussocarpus, Podocarpus and Prumnopitys.

Of all the species, only Decussocarpus rospigliosii comes to form coniferous forests proper between 1800-3000 meters above sea level, above oak forests (Quercus humboldtii). The rest of the podocarp species are part of the Andean tropical humid forests dominated by angiosperms.

Coniferous forests in Spain

The coniferous forest ecoregion of the Iberian Peninsula is one of the richest in flora in Europe, extending through various mountain ranges. Species such as the Salzmann pine (Pinus nigra subsp. salzmannii), the maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

There are also coastal stone pine forests (Pinus pinea) that develop stabilizing the sand dunes in southwestern Spain. In addition, there are scattered remnants of forests ofPinus sylvestris and Juniperus thurifera in rocky sites on the southern slopes of Cantabria that have biogeographic value.

In the northeast of Spain, in sandstone substrates in coastal mountain ranges, maritime pine forests predominate (Pinus pinaster) and mixed Aleppo pine forests (Pinus halepensis) and holly (Quercus coccifera).

These are home to a rich fauna, with more than 150 species of birds and others in danger of extinction such as the Pyrenean goat (Capra pyrenaica victoriae) and the Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca adalberti).


  1. Barbati A, Corona P and Marchetti M (2007). A forest typology for monitoring sustainable forest management: The case of European Forest Types. Plant Biosyst. 141 (1) 93-103.
  2. Calow P (Ed.) (1998). The encyclopedia of ecology and environmental management. Blackwell Science Ltd. 805 p.
  3. Manzanilla-Quiñones, U., Aguirre-Calderón, OA and Jiménez-Pérez, J. (2018). What is a conifer and how many species exist in the world and in Mexico? From the CICY Herbarium. Yucatan Scientific Research Center.
  4. Purves WK, Sadava D, Orians GH and Heller HC (2001). Life. The science of biology. Sixth edition. Sinauer Associates, Inc. and WH Freeman and Company. Massachusetts, USA. 1044 p.
  5. Raven P, Evert RF and Eichhorn SE (1999). Biology of plants. Sixth edition. WH Freeman and Company Worth Publishers. New York, USA. 944 p.
  6. World Wild Life (Viewed on April 24, 2020).

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *