Despite the general trends of deforestation caused by industries such as agriculture and timer, the planet still holds numerous large forests. There is an enormous amount of diversity in climate and terrain throughout the world, and the forests that populate that terrain are equally diverse, reflecting traits unique to their own regions. What are some of those biggest forests in the world? Let’s take a look at the largest wildwoods on each continent.
Largest Forest in North America
The largest forest in North America is Tongass National Forest in Southeastern Alaska. It covers nearly 17 million acres, and is just to the North of Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. The Tongass National Forest alone is roughly the same size as the state of West Virginia. When you consider the two forests together, they form the largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet and cover more than 500 miles north and south according to Audubon Alaska.
When most people hear the word rainforest, they often associate it with a tropical jungle biome, such as the Amazon, but in reality, a rainforest is any woodland that has a dense tree canopy which allows little light to pass through and which gets at least 60 inches of rain annually.
Given that it’s in Alaska, it’s unsurprising that most of the trees that grow in this particular forest are some type of evergreen. The primary varieties of trees found there are Sitka Spruce, western hemlock, and a couple of species of cedar trees. Although it has fewer kinds of wildlife than a tropical forest, due to its cooler climate, there are still some 400 different types of land and marine wildlife, including salmon, bears, and eagles.
Largest Forest in South America
Unsurprisingly, the largest forest in the world is Amazon, and it is South America. The Amazon basin covers an area of about 2.7 million square miles, of which 2.1 million is rainforest. It covers about two-fifths of South America, sprawling into parts of Suriname, Guyana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Not only is it the largest rainforest in South America, it’s the largest forest anywhere in the world. It contains about 20% of the world’s fresh water and about 30% of all the plant and animal species on the planet. Worldatlas.com says that the Amazon is home to more than 2,000 different species of animals, including 1,300 types of birds, 400 species of amphibians, 378 types of reptiles, and 427 different mammals.
Besides just being a place of biodiverse wonder, The Amazon also plays a huge role in helping stabilize the planet’s climate. Because it contains so much water, it also releases a lot water through evaporation, regulating global weather. The immense quantity of plant life means that it also helps rid the world of carbon dioxide and helps produce a lot of oxygen.
Largest Forest in Europe
In Europe, Bialowieza is both the largest and oldest forest. The forest is UNESCO World Heritage site, and sits along the border of Poland and Belarus, on the watershed for the Baltic and Black Sea. This ancient forest hold a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees and covers about 550 square miles. As with the other large forests already discussed, Bialowieza is known for its biodiversity, with more than 250 species of birds, 7 types of reptiles, 13 amphibian species and around 60 species of mammals. Of the mammals, the European Bison is the biggest draw for visitors.
The Largest Forest in Asia
The Sundarbans is a mangrove forest which sprawls over 3,800 square miles in Bangladesh and India. Like Bialowieza, Sundarbans in also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is a known site for the conservation of the Bengal tiger. It’s a coastal mangrove forest, which means that it’s really a network of small islands all surrounded by interconnected tidal waterways. It got its name from the large mangrove trees known as Sundari, according to the site for the National Park associated with the area. Besides being the home of Tiger Project, Sundarbans is also home to threatened species such as the Indian python and certain varieties of crocodile, as well as over 250 species of birds.
Largest Forest in Africa
The Congo is right up there with the Amazon in terms of having a mysterious image in many people’s minds. Although nine African countries have part of their area within the region known as the Congo Basin, only six of them are part of the Congo rainforest, according to Mongabay.com: Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rainforest covers about 1.5 million square miles, making it the second-largest rainforest in the world. The Congo River, which is the second largest river on the planet, cuts through the basin and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Congo has nearly 1.600 different types of animals living in it, many of which can’t be found anywhere else. All three sub-species of gorilla, lowland, eastern lowland, and mountain gorillas, can all be found there. There are also 1,000 different types of birds, and 500 types of amphibians and reptiles. Because the area is so rich in natural resources, logging and mining are posing an increasing risk to the ecosystem, as is hunting. The good news is that the various countries who share this forest have been working together to step up efforts at conservation and preservation.
Largest Forest in Australia
The Daintree, a tropical rainforest on the Northeastern border of Queensland, is the largest continuous forest in Australia, covering about 463 square miles. According to the Daintree Discovery Centre, it’s about 180 million years old, making it tens of millions of years older than the Amazon and also making it the oldest rainforest on the planet. Many experts believe that there probably used to be other rainforests in Australia millions of years ago, but that they died out as the continent became drier. The Daintree forest’s position on the coast is what allowed it continue to prosper.
It provides shelter to one third of Australia’s marsupial, frog, and reptile species. It’s also two thirds of that continent’s bats and butterflies, and about one fifth of the species of birds. Some of the most interesting mammals you can find there include wallabies, kangaroos, platypus, echidna and bandicoots.
Forests in Antarctica
While the idea of forests in Antarctica seems bizarre to modern man, it wasn’t always such a ridiculous idea. National Geographic reported that even though the continent is currently frozen desert, hundreds of millions of years ago it was part of the supercontinent known as Gondwana. At the time, the area contained a number of hardy plant species and was even pretty humid. However, the land was hit with an extinction event which caused around 90% of all the species on the planet to die off. One of the ways that scientists intend to learn more about that event is to study the fossils of forests that used to exist in the now-frozen Antarctic. Those fossilized forests resemble the Petrified Forest at Yellowstone National Park, and are some of the best-preserved fossils in the world.
Experts say that those forests would have been of relatively low diversity, since the trees and other flora would have had to be able to tolerate the climate, but would have been similar to the boreal forests in Siberia. They would also have had to make the transitions between seasons much more quickly than trees elsewhere on Earth, as well as be able to flourish despite growing in an environment where they would either have a lot of light or perpetual night for months at a time.