Canadian Forest Service Publications

The extent of the North American boreal zone. 2009. Brandt, J.P. Environmental Reviews 17(1): 101-161.

Year: 2009

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 29569

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1139/A09-004

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The circumpolar boreal zone is one of the world’s major biogeoclimatic zones, covering much of North America and Eurasia with forests, woodlands, wetlands, and lakes. It regulates climate, acts as a reservoir for biological and genetic diversity, plays a key role in biogeochemical cycles, and provides renewable resources, habitat, and recreational opportunities. Poor agreement exists amongst scientists regarding this zone’s delimitation and the areal extent of boreal forests, even though the zone has been well-studied. This paper reviews the literature on the phytogeography of the zone and makes use of a geographic information system (GIS) and published maps to delineate a current map of the North American boreal zone and the hemiboreal subzone, which is a transitional area lying immediately to the south of the boreal zone that is usually included in the boreal zone by Europeans but excluded by North Americans. On the basis of the map described here, the boreal zone covers about 627 million ha, or 29% of the North American continent north of Mexico. If the hemiboreal subzone, at 116 million ha, is included, then 34% of the same area is covered. Forests and other wooded land (362 million ha) cover 58% of the North American boreal zone on the basis of current forest inventory data. With forests and other wooded land of the hemiboreal subzone (68 million ha) factored in, this percentage remains basically unchanged. Values reported in this paper are compared with other published statistics. Important sources of error contributing to differences in areal statistics are discussed.