Bogs occur where the water at the ground surface is acidic and low in nutrients. In some cases, the water is derived entirely from precipitation, in which case they are termed ombrotrophic (rain-fed). Water flowing out of bogs has a characteristic brown colour, which comes from dissolved peat tannins. In general, the low fertility and cool climate results in relatively slow plant growth, but decay is even slower owing to the saturated soil. Hence peat accumulates. Large areas of landscape can be covered many metres deep in peat.
Bogs have distinctive assemblages of animal, fungal and plant species, and are of high importance for biodiversity, particularly in landscapes that are otherwise settled and farmed.
Bogs are widely distributed in cold, temperate climes, mostly in boreal ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere. The world's largest wetland is the peat bogs of the Western Siberian Lowlands in Russia, which cover more than a million square kilometres. Large peat bogs also occur in North America, particularly the Hudson Bay Lowland and the Mackenzie River Basin. They are less common in the Southern Hemisphere, with the largest being the Magellanic moorland, comprising some 44,000 square kilometres. Sphagnum bogs were widespread in northern Europe but have often been cleared and drained for agriculture.
There are many highly specialised animals, fungi and plants associated with bog habitat. Most are capable of tolerating the combination of low nutrient levels and waterlogging.(chapter 3) Sphagnum is generally abundant, along with ericaceous shrubs. The shrubs are often evergreen, which is understood to assist in conservation of nutrients. In drier locations, evergreen trees can occur, in which case the bog blends into the surrounding expanses of boreal evergreen forest. Sedges are one of the more common herbaceous species. Carnivorous plants such as sundews (Drosera) and pitcher plants (for example Sarracenia purpurea) have adapted to the low-nutrient conditions by using invertebrates as a nutrient source. Orchids have adapted to these conditions through the use of mycorrhizal fungi to extract nutrients.:88 Some shrubs such as Myrica gale (bog myrtle) have root nodules in which nitrogen fixation occurs, thereby providing another supplemental source of nitrogen.