Plant & animal life in temperate deciduous forests

Updated July 19, 2017

Temperate deciduous forest is a forest biome dominated by broad-leafed deciduous trees. The most extensive tracts of intact temperate deciduous forest exist on the eastern half of North America, though there are smaller remnants in Europe, Asia, Australia and the tip of South America.


Dominant tree species include oak, maple, walnut and beech, forming a canopy up to 100 feet high. Temperate deciduous forests experience large changes in temperature throughout the year, ranging from warm or hot summers, to cold and snowy winters. Since these forests are dominated by leafy deciduous trees, autumns are notable for the bright colours on display as these trees begin to shed their leaves in preparation for winter.

Other Plant Life

In addition to the large canopy trees mentioned above, there are four other layers of plant growth characteristic of temperate deciduous forests. These include a layer of smaller trees and saplings, shrubs such as huckleberries and rhododendrons, a layer of herbs and a layer of ground lichens and mosses.


The changing seasons in a temperate deciduous forest make for an environment that can look strikingly different. In the summer, long days and warm temperatures produce an explosion of leaf growth in the forest canopy, often covering the forest floor in shadow and reducing undergrowth. With the fall comes the loss of leaves, which cover the forest floor, where they decompose during the winter and return nutrients to the soil. In the spring, undergrowth and smaller trees and shrubs are the first to produce leaves, often flowering and setting seed before the lush summer months.


The temperate deciduous forest supports a wide array of animal and insect life. On the forest floor, insects and micro-organisms feed on decaying plant material, such as the leaves that fall every autumn. Many of these insects are then fed upon by creatures such as toads, box turtles and a myriad of birds. Chipmunks and squirrels feed upon nuts and seeds which fall from the trees above. Larger animal life include white-tailed deer, raccoons, opossums and black bears. Where not eliminated by humans, large predators include wolves, mountain lions and bobcats.

Human Interaction

Temperate deciduous forest lies in regions favourable to human habitation, due to rich soils and a relatively mild climate. As a result, human encroachment often negatively impacts these environments. Historically, large predators were targeted by human hunters, and extensive logging operations have eliminated large swathes of forest. Development and agriculture also encroach upon these habitats.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author