Tundra Biomes in Ecology: Locations, Climate, Plants and Animals

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Tundra Biome Definition

In Finnish, Tundra means a barren or treeless land; there are fewer species of plants in the tundra biome than in any other biome. All the plants are very slow and low growing, compact and rounding to gain protection against the wind (plants as well as human are affected by wind chill) and most have to complete their life cycle within 50-60 days.

There is no stratification of vegetation by height and there are hardly trees, except for few birches that occur in the lower latitudes. This is due to the frozen ground which prevents plants roots from penetrating downward. According to ecologists, tundra soil is also poor in nutrients, but in some places where animals dropped their dungs while grazing are said to be a bit fertile for plants growth.

Tundra biome locations

Tundra is located at latitudes 550 to 700 north; it covers about 20% of the earth’s surface. The tundra biome which lies to the north of the taiga, includes the extreme northern parts of Alaska, Canada and Russia together with all of Greenland. Tundra is the closest to the North Pole and it is usually very cold with a very dry land, its distance to the Equator is 11113.10km. There are other places with cold freezing temperatures that are also referred to as tundra, and they are located in the Northern Hemisphere.

The tundra is divided into three types which are:

  1. Alpine tundra– this is characterised by heavy wind. Since it is located at a high mountain as Himalayas and Kilimanjaro, many animals and plants do not exist here because of its high altitude.
  2. Arctic tundra– the arctic tundra is located at high latitude such as Alaska and Russia, it is characterised by strong wind and the winds can blow between 30 to 60 miles (48 to 97 kilometres) per hour. There are many species of animals in this biome, and it is found in North American, Scandinavian and in Russian, the Scandinavian tundra is the warmest, with winter temperatures averaging 180F (-8C).
  3. The Antarctica tundra– the Antarctica tundra is also called the frozen tundra; it is the coldest because it is mainly ice. This tundra is the driest biome that supports very little species; it is located in the Antarctica and at the edge South America.

Tundra biome climate

Tundra biome is characterised by little rain and low temperature

Tundra region is characterized by low temperature, low rainfall, poor drainage, and poor soil and it is the driest of all biomes. Summers may have lengthy periods of continuous daylight (most times 6- 10 weeks), but with the angle of the sun is so low in the sky, temperatures may struggle to rise above freezing point (300C) and the growing season is exceptionally short, while winters are long.

Nearer to the poles, the climate is one of the perpetual frosts. Although winters are dark and severe and the sea freezes the water that has a moderating effect on temperatures keeping slightly higher than inland places further south (Siberia).

In tundra biomes, the summer temperatures hardly reach up 500F (i.e. 100C), but can get as cold as 370F (30C). Once the sun rises, it only lasts enough to melt the snowy ground and underneath the soil is the tundra’s permafrost, which lies 6 inches below- a permanently frozen layer of the earth which is about 1,500 feet deep.

As the snow melts, it turns the tundra soil very mushy. The ground absorbed the melted snow, which is in form of moisture which only occur at the top level, just enough for plants to grow and yield. The tundra biome is similar to the desert biomes, and in its own case, there is very little rainfall. Tundra precipitation vary from one region to another, the average precipitation reaches 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 inches) which falls yearly in form of snow and it is very light (110mm).

Tundra biome plants

Animals in tundra survive the weather conditions by feeding on fish, seeds and fruits

There are about 1,700 species of plants in tundra, but the five main dominants, each with its specialized local habitat are lichens, mosses; grasses cushion plants and low shrubs. Most have small leaves to limit transpiration and short roots to avoid permafrost.

Lichens are pioneer plants in areas where the ice is retreating and they can help date the chronology of an area following deglaciation. Most of the tundra soil is water logged especially in summer due to the impermeable permafrost preventing infiltration.

Relief is gentle and evapotranspiration rates are low. In such areas, mosses, shrubs, lichens, cotton grass and sledges thrive. On locations facing slopes and in better-drained soils, cushion plants provide a mass of colour in summer; these bloom mats include artic poppies, anemones, pink saxifrages and gentians. Some species here grow only to a maximum of 30cm. In winter, the whole biomes are covered with snow which acts as insulation for the plants.

Lack of nitrogen fixing plants limits fertility and the cold and wet condition inhabit the breakdown of plant material. Photosynthesis is hindered from taking place, but the lack of sunlight and water for most of the years is always there, though the presence of autotrophs such as lichens and mosses does provide the basis for a food chain longer than might be expected.

Tundra biome animals

Polar bears live in the ice as well as other animals
Polar bears live in the ice as well as other animals

In tundra biome, herbivores such as reindeer, caribou and musk ox survive because plants like reindeer and moss have high sugar content.

However, these animals have some unique adaptations for survival and they migrate in the winter to find pasture, as it is not completely covered by snow; others produce their young ones in the summer, while some sleep in doors during the worst period of the winter to preserve more energy. Carnivores include wolves, owls and artic fox, shrews, hares, polar bears, deer and rodents as few examples of animals found in the tundra biome.

There are numerous mosquitoes in the tundra; they have ways of keeping themselves from freezing, this they do by replacing the water in their bodies with a chemical called glycerol. This chemical works like an antifreeze and allows them to survive under the snow during the winter. However, various species of insects also survive in the tundra they include black flies, deer flies, and “no-see-ums” (tiny biting midges).

The tundra is an extremely fragile ecosystem in a delicate balance; people have recently migrated to tundra to work in the mines and oil industries. New towns and roads have also been constructed to support the increasing population. These new developments have interrupted many of the animals migrations and their food chains.

The tundra, once it is disturbed by human activities, such as tourism or oil exploration, it may take many years before it becomes re-established.