The Four Types of Forests Around the World

The Four Types of Forests Around the World

Forests cover one-third of the world’s land surface—more than 15.3 million square miles. Within this vast area you’ll find all types of habitats, from the boreal forests of Canada to the jungles of Brazil. Every forest is different, but some share common traits based on the local climate. In fact, every forest on the planet can fit into one of four categories.

Four Types of Forests

1. Tropical
Outside of a zoo, where can you find rhinos, tigers, elephants and orangutans all in one place? The tropical rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra. Tropical forests are biodiversity wonderlands; you’ll find more different kinds of plants and animals in these types of forests than anywhere else on Earth. With year-round temperatures above 65 degrees Fahrenheit and plenty of water, just about any creature can thrive here.

2. Subtropical
Subtropical forests are like their tropical cousins, but not quite as hot or biodiverse. They are still warm, but with a noticeable chilly season; they are still chock full of a wide range of plants and animals, though none with a vulnerability to cold. As the borderland between tropical forests and the colder temperate forests, subtropical forests serve an important function as a winter home for migratory wildlife like monarch butterflies.

3. Temperate
Temperate forests cycle through all four seasons. Most forests in the US are temperate forests. Depending on the region, you can find coniferous forests full of evergreen trees that have leaves year-round; deciduous forests with trees that shed their leaves every year; and some forests with a mix of everything. The cold winter means temperate forests don’t have the variety of animal and plant life you’ll find in subtropical or tropical regions, and many of the animals hibernate or migrate during the winter.

4. Boreal
At the other extreme is the Boreal forest. Boreal forests are still full of life that’s adapted to withstand frigid temperatures year-round, such as caribou reindeer, or animals that can migrate long distances every winter. Full of deciduous trees and conifers, Boreal forests cover vast expanses in Canada, Alaska, and Russia. Boreal forests are also an important carbon sink. Like all forests they absorb carbon dioxide –a main contributor to global warming and climate change—removing it from the atmosphere and helping to keep the entire planet healthy.

While these forests are all different, there is one unfortunate unifying factor: they are all threatened. We’re losing 18.7 million acres of forests every year to deforestation and degradation, mainly in the tropics. That’s equivalent to 27 soccer fields a minute. The causes may be different—some are cleared for ranching and agriculture, while others are illegally harvested for timber—but the loss and forest degradation is equally devastating.

The good news is that World Wildlife Fund and our partner organizations around the world are not going to let this continue. We’re implementing innovative, permanent solutions to conserve forests around the world: encouraging companies to use wood products from forests that are responsibly managed, in accordance with the Forest Stewardship Council standards; working with governments to stop illegal logging; pooling our resources with other groups to protect huge sections of forests in the long-term; and much more. Together we’ll keep all forests, no matter which category they fall into, safe and healthy for generations to come.

Published March 21, 2019 at 05:00AM

Exploring the natural world through the lens of a camera

Exploring the natural world through the lens of a camera

Wildlife and wild places in the United States deserve our protection. From the herds of bison roaming the Midwest’s Northern Great Plains to singular polar bears hunting from ice floes off the coast of Alaska, our nation is home to a vast array of unique animals that need our help. But what about those outside our borders?

The US government has long been a leader in international conservation and encouraged other countries to cooperate on efforts to conserve wildlife, habitats, and natural resources, particularly in the developing world. It's important to regularly share with our elected officials our concerns, hopes, and aspirations for the future of people, wildlife, and habitats.

WWF’s Lobby Day event helps activists do just that. Activists from all over the country will come to Washington, DC, to meet with representatives in person on Capitol Hill to let them know that the environment needs to be a priority in the coming years.

Though it’s true that many of us participating in Lobby Day may never witness firsthand some of these animals roaming in their natural homes, we still have a window in—photography. Through the lenses of their cameras, photographers bring the majesty of the wilderness into focus for those near and far.

WWF asked three photographers who have captured slices of life in far off places to share a few words about their experiences in the field to inspire us as we, in turn, prepare to inspire our representatives. Take a look.

Snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan
Most of us, it’s fair to say, won’t ever see a snow leopard in our lifetimes. Sparse and elusive, they're confined to one of the most remote and forbidding regions on Earth. Yet we’re comforted by the thought that somewhere out there, such a glorious creature has a secure place in this world. In this Anthropocene—the current time during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment—we know, their loss would be our failure.

It’s estimated that across their entire range, only between 4,000 and 7,000 snow leopards remain. Their best chance at survival, in part, rests with the humans living alongside them in Asia’s high mountains, where WWF helps train local communities to monitor and survey snow leopards and perform anti-poaching initiatives. While on assignment for WWF, I got to spend time in one such place: Ak-Shyrak, Kyrgyzstan, a remote village nestled at 10,500 feet beneath the mountainous Chinese border. In the community hall one afternoon, I watched local teenage girls, dressed in leopard-patterned fur suits, stage a theatrical skit and choreographed dance number that promoted the virtues of environmental stewardship. The enraptured audience, members of surrounding communities, included some former poachers who’d recently committed to wildlife protection.

This wasn’t fancy scientific monitoring or governmental-level activism, I remember thinking. This was super-grassroots education in the kind of place where changing the culture can really make a difference. Farida Balbakova, WWF's project coordinator in Kyrgyzstan who’d organized this local Snow Leopard Festival, looked on, satisfied. "I feel like I awoke something that was sleeping inside of them," she told me.

Andy Isaacson


Climate change in Mexico

Farming in the desert using rainwater might rank high on the list of quixotic pursuits. But on assignment in the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico, I found myself among ejido farmers, a long-standing tradition of farming well versed in squeezing every bit of sustenance from a single drop of water. They grow crops and raise livestock in a landscape that at first appears inhospitable. In the face of changing climate, they have adapted to increasingly challenging environmental conditions, developing practices that could help farmers on both sides of the border weather the pressures of climate change more sustainably. Their techniques at first seem so easy. A young boy splashes pebbles into a miniature canal system where his mother has just watered their garden. The clanking of rocks fills the air as farmers drop stones onto a weir that will trap water when the next rain comes. Climate change knows no boundaries. It is not a simple problem. But solutions can come from a simple act. We listen. And in this way at least, we do not look at the world as one defined by borders, but instead a kinship of land and water and river and life.

Morgan Heim


Forests of Argentina

I am on the road, on assignment, photographing the dynamics at the intersection of social and environmental issues about 200 days a year. My last project with WWF was the cover story on Argentina’s Gran Chaco region and the efforts to address deforestation in this heavily farmed and ranched region. It’s a subtle, working landscape with tangled, messy forests, and not the iconic nature we are more often inspired to protect. But to me that makes it more important. This is where people live close to—and rely most intimately on—their natural resources. It’s where the choices everyday people make, make a difference in the landscapes that are the vital connective tissues that connect those more charismatic hot spots—and connect us to it all. We need that flagship nature and wildlife; it sustains us emotionally and inspires us. But more importantly we need to connect to those places that sustain us literally. The open space in your community, the roadside wilderness we pass between daily destinations, and the scrappy, dry ‘el impenetrable’ forests of northern Argentina. 

Jason Houston

Published February 15, 2019 at 06:00AM

2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record

2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record

The US government announced 2018 as the fourth-warmest year on record. Overall, the past five years have been the five warmest years since record-keeping began in the late 1800s.

2018 was a costly year too, for the United States. According to NOAA, in 2018, 14 weather and climate disasters each exceeded $1 billion in the United States. 

Unfortunately, in the US and globally, the amount of heat-trapping gasses entering the atmosphere continues to rise. As the planet rapidly heats up, we see extreme impacts of this warming across all landscapes, affecting wildlife and people around the globe.

What’s happening right now:

  • Sea level rise: Global average sea level has risen by about 7–8 inches since 1900. Rising seas endanger coastal cities and small island nations by exacerbating coastal flooding, storm surge and contributing to more dangerous weather events.
  • Coral degradation: Changes in water temperature cause algae to leave coral reefs, turning the reefs white and making them vulnerable to disease and death – a phenomenon known as coral bleaching. Mass coral bleaching events have become five times more common worldwide over the past 40 years. 2015-2017 was the longest and most widespread global coral bleaching event on record.
  • Arctic warming: The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth and ice-free summers could become a reality as early as 2040. Over the past 30 years, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95 percent. This loss of sea ice endangers both humans and wildlife.
  • More extreme heat waves and cold spells: Because of the rapidly warming climate, weather extremes are becoming more common. Heat waves are occurring more often than they used to in major cities across the United States. The average heat wave season across 50 major cities is 45 days longer than it was in the 1960s. In addition, changes in the jet stream, caused by a warming atmosphere, are linked to recent polar vortex events in the United States. A weakening of the polar vortex allows cold arctic air to descend farther south than in the past.
  • Flooding: Floods are the most common natural hazard in the United States. Global floods and extreme rainfall have surged by more than 50% this decade and are now occurring at a rate four times higher than in 1980.

Because we are already locked in to certain levels of warming, climate change will continue to harm millions of people and nature worldwide. That means it is critical that communities prepare for climate impacts.

Demand action - Reach out to your local elected officials and ask if your city has a disaster response plan in place. Keeping communities safe starts by having a strong plan.

You can also play a big part in reducing emissions that cause climate change with a few simple changes to your daily routine to lower your carbon footprint:

Electricity - Ask your utility company to switch you to renewable energy, many utilities can make the change with little to no effect on your bills. If you own your house, check out solar panels or explore community solar projects in your area.

Transportation - Transportation is the largest source of emissions in the United States. Think about walking or riding a bike when you can, using hybrid or electric vehicles, carpooling, or taking public transit. Just taking these actions one or more times per week helps.

Food - Agriculture causes about a quarter of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. While we still need food to eat, we can prevent food waste by producing buying, or taking only what we need. By eating healthily and responsibly, we can lighten the burden that our appetites put on wildlife, wild places, and the climate.

Remember: Don't Give Up - Talk about climate change with your friends and family, your city council, or school. Start holding your leaders accountable. Find out if your stores, your restaurants, and your city are committed to climate action by visiting And if they are not on the list, ask them to join.

Pledge to cut your carbon footprint.

Published February 06, 2019 at 06:00AM

Diving for Data in the Galápagos

Diving for Data in the Galápagos

Fifteen meters below the ocean’s surface, Nicolas Moity glides past a sea turtle in the Galápagos Islands Marine Reserve. With an underwater pen and a whiteboard strapped to his wrist, the pony-tailed marine biologist discretely takes notes. He’s not recording the turtle’s behavior, but that of the scuba diver a few feet away, whose fins keep brushing up against the fragile reef.

Several times each year, Moity or his volunteers at the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galápagos National Park go “undercover” on tourist boats to collect data on the impacts of diving at sites around the Galápagos Islands. After the dive, Moity explains who he is and hears all kinds of sheepish apologies from the negligent divers. He doesn’t scold them, but hands out questionnaires, asking divers for information ranging from the cleanliness of the boat to how well the guides warned them about hazards.

He’s a one-man Yelp with a scuba mask.

Over time, Moity’s data has revealed some surprises, such as the fact that more experienced divers tend to be more careless when it comes to touching the reef. “Depending on the group, guides can use this information to adapt their briefing,” he says.

The effort, which Moity began three years ago with the support of a grant from WWF’s Marine Biodiversity Fund, is now part of DiveStat, an official program of the Galápagos National Park with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Charles Darwin Foundation, and WWF-Ecuador . DiveStat’s ultimate goal is to help boost the “ocean economy” in the Galápagos in a sustainable way—ensuring that tourism and livelihoods can flourish while minimizing any impact on its irreplaceable ecosystem.

Divers play an important role in the islands. Compared to typical tourists, who spend 5-7 days in the Galápagos, scuba divers spend an average of 10 days “Before DiveStat, a lot of divers came to the Galápagos,” says Juan Carlos Izurieta of the Tourism Ministry. ”But we didn’t know how many of them there were, what were their demographic characteristics, and what they were doing underwater.”

Dive shop owners can access DiveStat’s data to see how they rank against other shops in terms of customer satisfaction, guide quality, and other metrics. Unlike Yelp, there’s no public shaming, as every shop is given a code that only they know to see their results.

DiveStat also gathers data directly from guides to share sightings of, say, hammerhead sharks, which every tourist wants to see, or sightings of unusual species, which scientists might want to know about. “We are in the field more than anyone else,” says diving guide Natalia Cifuentes, who is proud to be one of DiveStat’s most prolific contributors.

Published February 05, 2019 at 06:00AM

Monarch butterfly populations are on the rise

Monarch butterfly populations are on the rise

The latest survey of monarch butterfly habitat in Mexico is a testament to the power of conservation. The area of forest occupied by hibernating monarch butterflies in Mexico has increased by 144% in relation to last year’s survey—the biggest in the past 12 years. A new colony of monarchs was also found in the Nevado de Toluca, State of Mexico.

Because we can’t count butterflies individually, we instead measure the area of forest they occupy during hibernation to get a sense of the overall population. This year’s survey, conducted by WWF-Mexico and partners, found monarchs in 14.94 acres of forest, up from 6.12 acres at the same time last winter. Researchers found eight butterfly colonies in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve and six colonies outside of it. The largest colony occupied just over six acres of forest.

Monarch butterflies travel close to 2,500 miles from Canada and the United States to spend the winter in Mexico’s forests where a less extreme climate provides them a better chance at survival. Their populations fluctuate, so it’s necessary to continue to address the threats they face. Climate change, forest degradation in places where monarchs hibernate, and the conversion of grassland to farmland along their migratory route all impact the species.

With that in mind, the United States, Canada, and Mexico set out to conserve and protect monarch butterflies by establishing a high-level taskforce for conserving the monarch’s migration in February 2014.

Scientists, governments, and civil society are all playing a part in protecting monarchs. In the US, people responded to a call to plant milkweed, the only plant where monarchs lay their eggs, and from which monarch larvae feed; and in Mexico, WWF and other organizations, are working to establish gardens with flowers to feed them with nectar during their trip.
While this work and the new survey results are promising, we still have more work to do. Monarch populations remain far smaller than they were 20 years ago. You can help. Sign on to save the monarch butterfly.

Published January 30, 2019 at 06:00AM

2018: A Year in Stunning Conservation Photography

2018: A Year in Stunning Conservation Photography

Photography can provide a fascinating glimpse into parts of the world that we may never have the chance to visit ourselves. It's a powerful tool for showing the beauty and value of wildlife and wild places—and challenges us to protect them.

Take a look at just a few of WWF's favorite photographs from 2018, then join us in our mission to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

SAVING CATS | A 30-day-old Iberian lynx cub during its first health check at the Breeding Center of Zarza de Granadilla.

The Iberian lynx is considered the most endangered cat in the world. Found in some of the wildest and most remote parts of Spain, this animal is particularly elusive—even when taking its low population numbers into consideration.

Fewer than 100 individuals lived in the wild back in 2002. But now, thanks to the Iberian Lynx Ex situ conservation program, nearly 500 cubs have been more since 2005. The program is one of the pillars of the recovery of this species. It breeds and raises lynx that are fit to be released into the wild.

WWF works to reintroduce lynx into the wild, though we’re not involved in the breeding program. The Spanish Ministry of the Environment manages the Zarza de Granadilla breeding center. 

Read more about WWF’s work on lynx.

GOING SOLAR | Dzame Shehi completes her homework under a solar-powered light.

Dzame Shehi is a student at Mwanguda primary school who enjoys math and hopes to teach the subject in the future.   

At home—where she lives with her grandparents and six brothers and sisters—she’s responsible for fetching water every day, collecting firewood twice a week, and cooking meals for her extended family. She likes to study in the evenings, an activity she previously had to do under the light of a kerosene lamp that cost her family money and irritated her eyes as it released noxious fumes. Luckily, with help from WWF, Dzame recently received mobile solar lighting for her house. This alternative source of light is both less expensive and better for her health. Plus, she feels safer now as she carries out other household duties after dark.

Dzame and her family also received a fuel-efficient stove that uses 50% less firewood than the previous one. Now Dzame does not need to go to the forest to collect firewood as often, meaning she has more time to study and relax. And local forests benefit, too, because less wood is being removed.

Read more about how WWF is helping communities embrace solar energy.

BISON HOMECOMING | In the vast expanse of Montana’s Great Plains, WWF is working with tribal leaders to restore bison populations to the landscape.

Nearly two decades ago, Fort Peck Indian Reservation brought 100 bison from another reservation to its own lands, ending a 130-year absence of the massive mammals. Since then, the reservation has become one of the biggest proponents of a new vision for restoring large herds of buffalo to tribal lands across the Northern Great Plains.

It’s a vision that seeks to benefit not just the buffalo, but also the people who historically relied on them for everything from food and shelter to spiritual guidance—people such as the Assiniboine and Sioux. If managed well, the species that used to sustain them could answer various economic, social, and even health needs these tribes are facing today.

WWF is working with tribal partners to restore bison to their rightful place at the heart of tribal culture, economy, and ecology. With support from tribal leaders, we’re working in the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana to renew a sense of connection to bison and increase community support for bison programs and restoration.

Read more about WWF’s work to restore bison populations.

WHALE VISION | An Antarctic minke whale wears a non-invasive camera that glows yellow and red in the icy waters.

For the first time ever, scientists in Antarctica attached a camera to a minke whale and captured incredible evidence of how it feeds. The camera—one of three “whale cams” funded by WWF-Australia—is part of efforts by scientists to better protect whale feeding areas in Antarctica.

The camera was secured to the whale’s body using non-invasive suction cups that are designed to fall off after 24-48 hours. In an incredible stroke of luck, the camera slid down the side of the whale but stayed attached. The resulting footage—which would not have been possible with the original camera placement—shows how the whale’s throat expands as it moves through the water and feeds.

Minke whales and 14 other species filter primarily krill or small fish out of the water using specialized feeding plates, known as baleen, in a method called ‘lunge feeding.’

WWF is working with international whale researchers to better understand how and where baleen whales feed, and what we can do to protect them.

Read more about how WWF captured footage of a minke whale feeding on krill.

SHARING A HOME | Farmer Tumisi ‘Shorty’ Tlale demonstrates banging his drum to scare off elephants that often raid his crops at night.

During harvest season, farmers in the eastern panhandle of Botswana’s Okavango Delta like Tumisi ‘Shorty’ Tlale move from their homes to temporary field camps where they can protect their crops from elephants. Old soda cans and rags soaked in chili and oil hang from the single strand of wire that surrounds Tlale’s two-and-a-half-acre plot of land near Gunotsoga, the village where he lives. He also uses a shallow aluminum basin as a drum to scare off these large animals.

Even though elephants are naturally fearful of humans, ripening crops that fringe the road between these two worlds are hard to resist. Some fields are even in the corridors most frequently traveled by elephants. Others, like Tlale’s field, are adjacent to them.

WWF helps train wildlife managers and local communities to use modern methods and tools to reduce human-elephant conflict. We help communities protect their crops by monitoring elephants to provide early warning systems, erecting fences where required, and educating communities to reduce conflict through behavior change. Our long-term goal is to put in place proper land use planning that gives elephants space for seasonal movements, combined with fences to protect crops and infrastructure.

Read more of Tlale’s story and human-wildlife conflict in the Okavango Delta. 

PLASTIC PROBLEM | Blue-footed boobies like the one above and a vast array of other species are threatened by plastic pollution in our oceans.

Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador lie the volcanic islands of the Galápagos, famous for a wealth of unique plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The Galápagos Islands were the source of Darwin’s theory of evolution and remain a priceless living laboratory for scientists today.

Unfortunately, plastic pollution in our oceans threatens this unique part of the world. 

Humans produce an estimated 1.3 billion tons of plastic waste per year, a number is set to increase to 2.2 billion by 2025. In countries such as Ecuador that have limited garbage collection services, some of this plastic waste inevitably ends up back in the oceans or on beaches, where it has the potential to harm wildlife and human health. It’s an issue that WWF, local community and other partners are confronting head-on in the Galápagos.

Today, more than 50% of the overall waste, including recycle and organic materials, generated in Santa Cruz island are being recycled.

The next step is to prevent plastic products from getting to the Galápagos Islands in the first place. A recent law bans the distribution or commercialization of plastic drinking straws, disposable plastic shopping bags, styrofoam food containers and dinnerware, and non-returnable bottles of sodas and beers on the islands, though those products are unevenly used. WWF helped the Galápagos Governing Council develop the provincial ordinance regulating some of these products and continues to serve as a member of the Plastics Management Committee of the archipelago.

Read more about how WWF is tackling plastic pollution in the Galápagos.

Published January 15, 2019 at 06:00AM

WWF and partners share a new tool for studying—and saving—coral reefs

WWF and partners share a new tool for studying—and saving—coral reefs

Coral reefs are as vulnerable as they are beautiful; climate change is warming ocean waters and devastating reefs globally. A majority of the world’s coral reefs could experience severe bleaching and death by the end of this century, according to a report on the impacts of climate change. Bleaching occurs when above-average sea temperatures or other stressors disrupt coral’s healthy relationship with the algae that lives within its tissue. When stressed, the corals push out their algae, causing them to turn white and leaving it much more vulnerable to disease and death.

Monitoring the health and resilience of coral reefs is a lengthy and slow process—an unfortunate reality given how quickly our planet is warming. It can take years to organize, analyze, and share the data gathered underwater. That’s why WWF is turning to an innovative tool that speeds up the collection of valuable coral reef data and allows scientists to share new information sooner.

The Marine Ecological Research and Monitoring Aid—known as MERMAID—is a web-based tool that scientists everywhere can use, free of charge, to record valuable coral reef data both online in the office and offline on the boat. Observations are entered directly into the application rather than traditional software like Excel. MERMAID is uniquely able to “proof-read” this data, resolving mistakes and generating clean, ready-to-use datasets. This saves researchers months of painstakingly reviewing their data for errors and inconsistencies, and helps them make decisions to protect coral reefs more quickly.

Developed by WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and SparkGeo, MERMAID organizes users into projects where data can be organized and accessed across partner institutions. Users can share summaries of data from their MERMAID projects around the world to inform others and inspire collaboration.

MERMAID must be easy to use in order to succeed. In December 2018, more than a dozen marine scientists from non-profits and governments participated in a user summit in Fiji to learn how to use the tool and improve their underwater monitoring skills. Participants also provided feedback on what they like about the tool, what needs improvement, and what new features could be added to make the MERMAID even better.  The event also sparked exciting conversation about coastal conservation in Fiji and helped conservationists make new connections with others in their line of work.

With the fate of coral reefs on the line, WWF and its partners have exciting plans for putting MERMAID to use in making faster and better conservation decisions in 2019. The application will soon be able to conduct basic analyses on datasets and produce graphs, reports, and maps. These tools will be pivotal to the speed at which researchers communicate with conservation managers, policy makers, and local communities. There is still hope for the future of coral reefs, and technologies like MERMAID can help us keep pace with a changing world.

Published January 08, 2019 at 06:00AM


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