Russia has several soil and vegetation zones, each with its characteristic flora and fauna. Northernmost is the so-called arctic desert zone, which includes most of the islands of the Arctic Ocean and the seacoast of the Taymyr Peninsula. These areas are characterized by the almost complete absence of plant cover; only mosses and lichens are to be found. Birds and mammals associated with the sea (sea calf, seal, and walrus) are typical of this zone.
The tundra, which extends along the extreme northern part of Asia, is divided into arctic, moss-lichen, and shrubby tundra subzones. Only dwarf birches, willows, lichens, and mosses grow in the thin layer of acidic soil. Indigenous fauna include the arctic fox, reindeer, white hare, lemming, and common and willow ptarmigan.
South of the tundra is the vast forest zone, or taiga, covering half of the country; the soil here is podzolic. The northern areas of this zone are characterized by the alternation of tundra landscape with sparse growth of birches, other deciduous trees, and spruce. Farther south are spruce, pine, fir, cedar, and some deciduous trees. There are subzones of mixed and broadleaf forests on the Great Russian Plain in the southern half of the forest zone. Wildlife in the taiga include moose, Russian bear, reindeer, lynx, sable, squirrel, and among the birds, capercaillie, hazel-grouse, owl, and woodpecker. In the broadleaf woods are European wild boar, deer, roe deer, red deer, mink, and marten.
Farther south is the forest-steppe zone, a narrow band with the boundaries of the Great Russian plain and the West Siberian low country. Steppes with various grasses alternate with small tracts of oak, birch, and aspen. Still farther south, the forest-steppe changes to a region of varied grasses and small plants. The black and chestnut soils of this zone produce the best agricultural land in Russia. Typical mammals are various rodents (hamsters and jerboas); birds include skylarks, cranes, eagles, and the great bustard.
In the semi-desert zone, plant cover includes xerophytic grasses and shrubs. Typical animals are the wildcat and saiga antelope; lizards, snakes, and tortoises are common. The semi-desert areas and the deserts of Central Asia and Kazakhstan make up a separate subregion.