Forest Ecosystem Guide: Boreal vs Deciduous vs Coniferous vs Temperate

Young person looking at a forest ecosystem and wondering what type of forest it is from among boreal forest, deciduous forest, taiga biome, temperate forest, temperate deciduous forest, coniferous forest or another type.

Many people live nearby wooded areas, but have you ever thought about the forest ecosystem?

Did you know that there are many types of forest ecosystems (not just rainforests) and that they play a crucial role in maintaining the planet’s weather and health?

In fact, you might be surprised to discover that some regions have more than one type of forest side by side, providing key ecosystems that we all unconsciously rely on to provide the foundational needs of life.

A forest ecosystem allows living things to interact with their physical environment, where all the organisms are interdependent. But how can you tell which forests are boreal, deciduous, coniferous, temperate, or some other type?

This complete guide to forest ecosystems outlines the differences between these very wonderful habitats, and also provides key information for how to protect these natural resources for future generations.

What Is a Forest Ecosystem?

A forest ecosystem is a group of animals and plants living together in one place, depending on each other and interacting with the environment.6

If there is a high tree population in a region and animals depend on them and each other to survive, it becomes a self-sustaining forest ecosystem.

Squadron of pelicans in a lake near a Tropical rainforest.

(Image: Francesco Ungaro20)

The trees grow and form canopies, protect the soil and other trees growing underneath, and provide animal food.

The animals depending on the plants are also food sources for other animals, meaning that the ecosystem, directly and indirectly, supports plant and animal life.

A forest ecosystem can be a small tree branch supporting mosses, insects, and micro-organisms or a massive forest covering a huge part of a country and sustaining more plants and animals.

The larger the ecosystem, the more complex the interactions.

Characteristics of a Forest Ecosystem

The forests are diverse and fascinating to explore. The following are the most common forest ecosystem characteristics.


All forests are part of countries, and if the ecosystem falls in a region that experiences all four seasons, the forest will change according to the prevailing conditions.

For instance, Temperate forests go through all four seasons, and the temperate deciduous trees will lose their leaves in fall while preparing for winter, although the coniferous trees will stay green all year.

Deciduous vs Evergreen vs Mixture

The dominant trees in a forest can be deciduous, where the trees lose their leaves in winter. Most trees are broadleaf varieties whose leaves change color and fall, preparing for the winter but growing back when the danger has passed.

In contrast, some forests feature evergreen trees like coniferous species and narrow-leaf varieties that are resilient to harsh weather. These trees don’t shed their leaves and stay green all year.

(Image: Bernd 📷 Dittrich33)

A forest may also have a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Mountain Range.

Layers and Structures

An interesting feature of all forest ecosystems is how the trees and plants grow in layers or canopies. There are distinct levels in each: the forest floor at the bottom, the lower and upper canopies, and the treetops.7

Each layer serves a purpose, providing habitat and food to various animal species. The canopies also protect the soil by reducing the rain and wind intensity.

Wildlife Habitat

All forests are attractive to birds, insects, and other animals that call them home and obtain food from them. Birds love perching on the tree tops, nesting, and eating fruits and nuts.

The rainforests are natural habitats of some of the world’s rarest bird and animal species.

Wood Stork with gray bill, white feathers on body, and black feathers on wings, perched on Pine tree branch.

(Image: Paulbr7521)

The understories and forest floors also shelter insects and smaller animals living in bark and underleaf mulch on the ground.

Fertile Soil

The soil type in each forest depends on the particular ecosystem.8 The tropical deciduous and temperate forests have rich soils due to the decomposition of falling leaves that provides compost.

However, the needles from the Boreal forests make the soil acidic. In contrast, the soil in Tropical Rainforest jungles is generally infertile because the heavy rainfall keeps carrying away the nutrients.

What Is a Forest? What Are The Types of Forests?

A forest is an ecosystem mostly comprised of trees as the most prominent life form.1

It is the foundation for an autonomous environment where the plants and trees photosynthesize and, in turn, influence all other life forms.

Landscape showing Pine forest next to a lake with snow-covered mountain range in the background.

(Image: kienvirak17)

It is a complex relationship in which the trees are the forest producers while other animals depend on them for survival. Forests usually emerge based on the soil type and the climate and, in turn, influence the animal life in the environment.2

Trees are vital to the forest ecology in several ways: they purify and cool the air, prevent soil erosion by reducing the impact of the raindrops with their canopy, offer habitat for wildlife, and the dead plants and falling leaves decompose to form organic matter.

Forests are the main terrestrial ecosystem on the planet and exist in various parts. Researchers define them by tree density, total land cover, tree height, ecological function, and many other features.

Interestingly, more than 50% of the world’s forests are in only five countries, Brazil, the US, China, Russia, and Canada.

What Are the Animals in Forest Ecosystem?

Various animal species love forests. It offers a safe place to live and provides food for herbivorous and carnivorous diets. The following are the animals you will likely find in various forest ecosystems.

#1: Tropical Rainforests

There are jungles in various parts of the world known for their warm and wet weather.

The insect attracted to such conditions in South America includes the Monarch and Blue Morpho Butterfly.

Tropical rainforest with fog, and hills and mountains in the background.

(Image: AlanFrijns22)

Big cats like the Jaguar and long-tailed birds like the Quetzal also call the rainforest home. Australian jungles also host trees and Rat kangaroos.9

Other unique animals you will spot in scattered rainforests worldwide include Mountain Gorillas, Okapis, sloths, Scarlet Macaws, Capybaras, Green Anacondas, and Poison Dart Frogs.

#2: Deciduous Forests

These forests are mostly found in Asia, Europe, North America, and other parts, and unlike the rainforests, these biomes experience all four seasons.

The most dominant mammals here have heavy fur to protect them from the cold, including Brown Bears and deer.

You will also find birds like the Bald Eagles in these ecosystems, but most are migratory species that move to warmer regions during freezing temperatures.

#3: Coniferous Forests

These forests are common in the northern parts of Asia and America.

The conifers and evergreen trees live in mountainous regions, growing close together and reaching over a hundred feet tall.

Coniferous forest found in a valley and mountains.

(Image: 1201923)

The animals that love the ecosystems feature porcupines, coyotes, otters, beavers, bobcats, hawks, wolves, moose, woodpeckers, and warblers.

#4: Savanna Forest

The Savannah forests are less widely distributed than the main three ecosystems and don’t feature tall trees or forest layers. They feature tall grasses and experience warm climates, typical to Africa and Australia.

The most common animals in such regions include antelopes, elephants, and cheetahs in Africa and kangaroos in Australia.

What Are the Parts of a Forest?

There are layers to a forest, and each supports itself and the dependent animals and plants while taking advantage of the available sunlight, food, and water.

#1: The Forest Floor

This layer is the blanket that covers the ground or the region at the foot of the trees.

It is where recycling occurs and comprises fallen leaves, dead plant matter, moss, and other materials. When this matter decomposes, it provides the nutrients necessary for the next growth.

Forest floor covered with moss and some dried leaves.

(Image: Felixulllli18)

It is also a foraging ground for birds and insects and provides shelter and protection from the cold, especially during the winter.

The litter also prevents soil erosion and helps conserve soil moisture. The floor supports grass, ferns, and other plants and animals.

#2: Understory

The understory is the layer above the forest floor where shorter and immature trees live.3 It contains bushes, herbs, shrubs, and vegetation that grows closer to the forest floor.

These trees and plants can survive under the shade of other towering trees and are home to several animals that rely on them for food.

#3: Canopy

The canopy is above the understory, where taller and more mature trees live, towering over the forest. The trees form an umbrella-like cover and create a crown over the forest.

Bird's eye-view of a dense forest, with leaves in varying shades of green.

(Image: MurrrPhoto19)

They receive most of the sunlight, unlike the trees below, and help reduce the impact of the rain before it falls on the ground, preventing soil erosion.

#4: Emergent Layer

You will mostly find this layer in Tropical rainforests, where giant trees grow taller than the ones in the canopy. They are fewer and always poke out above the canopies.

How Are Forests Classified?

All the forests worldwide can be classified based on the following features.

According to Age

A forest can be even or unevenly aged. An even-aged forest/ regular forest ecosystem comprises trees of almost the same age as plantation forests.

However, the trees in uneven-aged forests/ irregular forests are of various age groups; some are recently planted, while others are older.4

According to Regeneration

There are high forests that are regenerated from seeds from other trees, and the Coppice forests, which consist of trees that grow from vegetative regeneration. Those in the latter come from the propagation of trees, not seeds.

According to Composition

There are pure and mixed forests. All the trees in a pristine ecosystem are almost entirely made of one species (more than 80% of the trees are from the same species).5

In contrast, mixed forests comprise two or more tree species, or each species has less than 80% population.

According to Objects of Management

There are production forests that bodies run solely for the products or what they can provide, while social forests are production forests. Still, society benefits from them, which applies to recreational and fuel forests.

Lastly, the protection forests are purely for protecting the climate, preventing soil erosion, and conserving water.

According to Ownership

There are government and private-owned forests. The government properties belong to the state, including reserves and protected forests.

Some agencies and corporations can own some forest parts in some countries.

The Food Chain in a Forest Ecosystem: What Are the Animals in Forest Ecosystem?

All the living things in the forest ecosystem are interdependent, from the tiniest micro-organism to the giant birds and mammals. Everything in the forest can be classified as a producer, consumer, or decomposer.10


The food chain starts at the producer level. The sun hits the forest, providing energy to the trees and helping them photosynthesize and serve as the producers.

The green plants and trees in the forest form layers, and each is a food source for particular animal species.

Primary Consumers

Consumers don’t create their energy like green plants. These consumers instead feed on the plant material, the leaves, flowers, grass, nuts, fruits, nectar, and seeds based on their diets.

Insects and herbivorous and omnivorous mammals are all primary consumers.

Secondary and Tertiary Consumers

The next level in the food chain belongs to the secondary and tertiary consumers. The secondaries feed on the primary consumers or the animals that feed on plant matter, while the tertiaries feed on the secondaries.

These meat eaters are called carnivorous animals that exclusively feed on other animals, although there are omnivorous species that mix their diets with plants. For instance, monkeys eat fruits and small insects.


The last in the chain are the decomposers which break down the dead plants and animals. They are vital to the ecosystem because they convert the dead matter to nutrients the soil requires to support the producers.

Mushrooms growing and decomposing dried pine cones and pine needles on the ground.

(Image: Bdellovibrium24)

The warm and humid conditions in the Amazon speed up the decomposition process. The dead matter takes about six weeks to completely break down.11

What Are the Forest Ecosystem Services?

Forest Ecosystem Services (FES) refer to the benefits people obtain from the ecosystem or the direct or indirect aid from the ecosystem that helps sustain humans. FES is vital for human and animal life thanks to the provision of natural resources.12

Most importantly, forests sustain life on earth. They are the home and source of food to plant and animal species, from the tiniest micro-organisms to the largest land mammals.

They support a complex ecosystem vital to many of the planet’s flora and fauna. Besides storing genetic resources and being a life source, forest ecosystems benefit people in several ways.

Forests offer food, nuts, fruits, medicine, fuel, aromatic plants, timber, and other products for personal and economic use. Parks and reserves are also great places to stroll and relax while enjoying nature, which is vital to mental and emotional health.

You can cycle, hike and run in the trails and hills in your local forests or travel to other states or countries, supporting local and international tourism. Forest Ecosystem Services are not only for physical, economic, and emotional well-being, but they are also crucial for the planet.13

The trees help purify the air and store carbon, aiding climate justice efforts. Forest ecosystems are also crucial for the water cycle, absorbing moisture from the soil and reverting it to the atmosphere.

Types of Forest Ecosystem

A forest ecosystem can fall into three major types depending on the latitude, leaf form and lifespan of the dominant species, and other individual characteristics.

Map graphics for the different types of ecosystems in the world including Tropical Rainforest, Temperate Forest, Desert, Tundra, Taiga (Boreal Forest), Grassland, Savanna/Tropical Grassland, Freshwater, Marine and Ice.

(Image: Moeller, K. and Deviche S.14)

The forest ecosystem examples include the Boreal, Tropical, and Temperate, although there are other smaller classifications like deciduous and coniferous.

Boreal Forest/Taiga Biome

The Boreal ecosystems, also called the Taiga, are found in the northern parts of the world, experiencing subarctic climates. They exist in Europe, North America, and Asia, particularly between the latitudes 50°- 70°N.

The systems south of the Boreal zones are Hemiboreal and feature various processes and support many species. These forests are some of the most massive in the world, usually in Canada, Siberia, Northern Asia, Scandinavia, and Alaska.

The trees in Boreal forests are evergreen species like spruce, firs, pines, conifers, and other needle-leaf varieties. They grow tall and form massive dense canopies that prevent sunlight from reaching the forest floor, explaining why less vegetation grows on the ground.

The ecosystem is also home to various wildlife, particularly mammal species with thick heavy fur, given the low temperatures experienced in the region. It is usually below freezing point, and the animals that survive such conditions include wolverines, elk, deer, moose, wolves, and lynxes.

A Brown lynx, one of the animals found in Boreal Forest/Taiga Biome, showing its printed fur, standing among grass.

(Image: FotoshopTofs25)

The native birds would rather migrate to warmer regions when winters approach. The identifying feature of the Taiga ecosystem is that it experiences long winters and short summers and about 15-40 inches of rainfall every year (mostly as snowfall).15

Tropical Forest

Also called the Tropical rainforest, this ecosystem is the largest worldwide, comprising almost half the planet’s forests at 45%. These jungles lie in the tropical regions or lands enclosed within the Tropic of Capricorn and Cancer and are usually massive forests with giant trees.

They receive heavy rainfall, at about 100 inches annually, and boast various species of plants and animals, including the exotic ones living specifically in the region. On the downside, these heavy rains deprive the soil of nutrients, leading to poor soil quality.

The vegetation here mostly consists of giant broadleaf varieties over 100 feet high. The tall trees and dense canopies make it challenging for the sun to reach the floor, but the environment is conducive to the survival of mammals, reptiles, and birds.

Almost half of the world’s animals live in tropical forests.

Temperate Forest

The Temperate forest ecosystem lies between the Boreal and Tropical regions in the Temperate zones.16 It covers North America, Japan, and Eurasia and is the third most massive biome in the world, with 25% of the forest land on the planet, coming next to the Boreal forest, with 33% cover.

These forests extend in the north and south hemispheres within latitudes 25°- 50°; given their size, you will find them on various continents. The regions receive less rainfall, unlike the Tropical rainforests, but the difference is that they have all four seasons with different temperatures.

The winters can reach below freezing, and the summers can be sweltering with high humidity. The soil is also nutrient-rich in organic matter, supporting the growth of various vegetation in the understory and forest floor.

These forests are home to many animals, including black bears, raccoons, owls, hawks, coyotes, deer, and squirrels.

The massive temperate forest can further be grouped into four more parts.

  • Temperate Deciduous Forests

The deciduous forests are in North America, East Asia, Europe, and parts of South America. They receive 30-60 inches of rainfall yearly and snowfall sometimes in winter. The distinguishing feature of these forests is the broadleaf trees, like the oaks that lose their leaves in fall when preparing for winter.

The forests feature trees like ferns, mosses, birch, maple, and wildflowers and animals like woodpeckers, hawks, and red foxes.

  • Temperate Coniferous Forests

The dominant trees in coniferous forests are the needle-leafed evergreen species like the fir and pine. These trees have better adapted to the freezing winters and don’t shed their leaves like the deciduous trees.

The most common trees in the biomes include firs, spruces, ferns, mosses, and redwood.

They are more resilient and live longer than the broadleaf varieties. These forests boast of heavy rainfall at 50-200 inches throughout the year, and the floors feature a heavy layer of decomposed plant matter.

  • Mixed Coniferous Forests

These biomes feature a mixture of broadleaves and conifers growing in the same region. The most common trees here include ash, maple, oak, birch, elm, pine, poplar, fir, magnolia, holly, and prunus.

Conifers and oaks dominate South America, while hardwoods like the stone pine and olive mostly live in the Mediterranean.

  • Temperate Rainforest

These regions are the rarest and wettest of all temperate forests and are usually in the coastal areas. All the trees in this biome are evergreen and have heavy underbrush.

Since many of these areas have suffered deforestation, you will only find them in Chile, the northwest of the Pacific, and New Zealand, or South Australia in small populations.

US National Forests Listed by Type

More than 100 areas in the US have been listed as national forests, covering over a hundred million acres of land.

Graphic image of the great smoky mountain forest ecosystem layers on the north and south sides of the mountains.The following is a breakdown of the well-known forests and their types.

Tropical Forests

Temperate Forests

  • Tongass National Forest
  • Apalachicola National Forest
  • George Washington and Jefferson
  • Pando and Lake Tahoe Forests Regions in the Sierra Nevada
  • Ponderosa Pines
  • Redwoods in California

Boreal Forests

  • Superior National Forest

Features of an Old Growth Forest

According to the FAO, old-growth forests consist of naturally generated native trees in their original state, without interference from human activities. Old-growth forests are full of ancient trees that are originally and naturally shaped through hundreds of years.

They are also called Virgin or Primary forests. Their most important features include many native trees, no indication of human interaction, and the ecological systems are intact.

The size of the old growth on the planet is roughly 1.11 billion hectares, which makes up about 36% of the world’s forests. Almost 2/3 of the old growth is found in Canada, Brazil, and Russia, and the largest primary forest in the US is in the Tongass National Forest (Alaska).

What Are Forest Carbon Offsets?

Forest carbon offsets programs are effective ways for organizations and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint and aid in climate justice efforts. Besides benefiting the environment, it also helps the communities living near the forests.

Companies issue carbon credits for reforestation, where the goal is to restore forests. This way, the environment is cleaner, and the greenhouse gas levels reduce.

The credits are also vital in offsetting the CO2 levels caused by deforestation and covering other emissions. The sole purpose is to increase the number of trees in the forests previously affected by illegal logging and other human activities.

Thanks to planting new trees, the level of carbon in the air reduce, and eventually, the global temperatures will be under control.

Family Forest Carbon Program

The American Forest Foundation and the Nature Conservancy initiated the family forest carbon program aiming to fight climate change alongside the country’s landowners. The program allows owners to participate in climate change activities according to how much carbon they sequester.

Such guidelines ensure that even the owners of small properties can chip in and contribute to the fight. The money they receive from selling these credits also helps them financially.

After approval, you receive a management plan from the program and payment based on how well your activities improve carbon sequestration. You can sign up for the 20 or 10-year contract based on your preference.

What Is the Largest Forest in the World?

The most massive forest on the planet is the Amazon Rainforest, a jungle that stretches through Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana, Peru, Ecuador, French Guiana, and Suriname. Being the largest forest in the world, it reaches more than 6 million kilometers squared and boasts as the home to 10% of the total species on the planet.

It is deservingly known as the lungs of the earth and is the most biodiverse rainforest globally, although it is now reducing in size after losing almost 20% of its plants and animals.

What Are the Types of Forest Ecosystem?

The world has three main forest ecosystem types: Boreal, Temperate and Tropical forests. Boreal environments in the northern parts of the world support evergreen and hardy trees that can survive harsh climates.

On the other hand, Temperate biomes feature deciduous, coniferous, and rainforest trees. The tropical ecosystems are the forests within the tropics, including the Amazon, the largest jungle in the world.

What Is a Deciduous Forest?

Deciduous forests are made up of trees that lose their leaves annually. These biomes are found in North America, Europe, and East Asia and feature broadleaf tree species that discolor in autumn and lose their leaves before the winter.

It is an adaptative characteristic that helps them survive cold temperatures. The trees you will likely find in the deciduous forests include maple, birch, oak, chestnut, aspen, and elm.

What Is a Coniferous Forest?

The coniferous forests are the opposites of the deciduous. Although the trees live in a similar environment, the coniferous species do not discolor or fall off when the temperatures plummet.

They are needle-leafed evergreen species that stay on the tree despite the freezing winters. These trees include the conifers like the spruces and firs.

Where Does Deforestation Occur the Most?

If you are keen on forest conservation, you may ask where does deforestation occur the most. The regions hardest hit by deforestation are within the tropics, around the middle of the planet.

These are locations of the world’s largest tropical rainforest jungles between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. These areas are rich in tree population and biodiversity, but sadly, they are the most affected by destructive human activities.

Illegal logging and massive land clearing for private use have led to the loss of millions of acres of land, especially in rainforests worldwide. The rate stands at more than 97% of the total deforestation due to human activities, and in 2021, the world lost about 11.1 million hectares of forests.

These shocking rates mean the world’s rarest species are endangered since the jungles are their natural habitats.

Trees in the Amazonian Rainforest

The Amazon is one of the richest forest ecosystems, hosting thousands of plants and animal species. It is the largest jungle in the world, located in South America, covering several countries.

Given its massive size and biodiversity, it is no wonder it shelters some of the rarest trees in the world.

A few trees you will find in Amazonia include the:

  • Brazil Nut tree
  • Cocoa tree
  • Monkey Brush
  • Liana tree
  • Strangler Fir

Cocoa Tree

Cacao tree showing brown Cacao fruits, branches, and green leaves.

(Image by: Marionberaudias26)

Liana Tree

Low-angle show of Liana Vine growing on tree with green foliage.

(Image by: Katie_Janest27)

  • Huimba
  • Hot Lips
  • Hachiote
  • Heliconia
  • Ironwood
  • Rubber tree


Heliconia or Lobster-Claw plant showing its red flowers with green tips in a form similar to a lobster's claw.

(Image by: Willypomares28)


Ironwood tree showing its massive trunk and light brown bark, with marks of the start of bark peeling.

(Image by: Nennieinszweidrei29)

  • Bromeliads
  • Tangarana tree
  • Lupuna
  • Camu Camu plant
  • Piripiri plant
  • Walking Palm


Low-angle shot of a tree with a Bromeliad species growing on its branches.

(Image by: Adrimarie30)

Piripiri Plant

Piripiri plant showing its light green leaves and tiny red fruit.

(Image by: Dr_Chinchu_C31)

A forest ecosystem is an intricate relationship between plants and animals, where the two find ways to depend on each other. The plants and trees are the producers, while the animals are the primary and secondary consumers.

Forests are arranged in layers, from the forest floor on the ground to the canopies at the top, each part beneficial to particular animals. Three main forest ecosystems distributed worldwide are the Boreal, Temperate, and Tropical biomes, each with particular features to support specific plant and animal life.

The Tropical systems lie within the tropics and feature warm and humid environments for jungles to thrive.

On the other hand, Boreal environments exist in subarctic climates, while Temperate regions lie between tropical and boreal environments.

Each forest ecosystem is vital for the planet’s trees, wildlife, and human populations and helps sustain the entire planet, and are worth protecting.

Frequently Asked Questions About Forest Ecosystem

What Are the Features of a Temperate Deciduous Forest?

The temperate deciduous forests are found in North America, Europe, East Asia, and parts of southern America. The most striking feature of the trees in this region is that they lose their leaves when winter approaches and grow them back when the cold has passed.


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