Tundra – Concept, types, climate, flora and fauna

We explain what the tundra is, its climate and the animals that inhabit it. Also, how is its flora and the types of tundra that exist.

The tundras are covered by a layer of snow that covers both the ground and the mountains.

Do youWhat is the tundra?

The tundra is a biome characterized by an icy subsoil, little rainfall and a flat terrain with a lack of tree vegetation. The term tundra comes from Russian and means “plain without trees.”

It is the coldest biome on the planet, so usually found in areas near the poles, and has a characteristic and distinctive landscape formed by a layer of snow that covers both the ground and the mountains.

The tundra occupies about 10% of the earth’s surface and is found mostly in the northern hemisphere in the area of ​​Alaska, Iceland, Siberia, southern Greenland, northern Russia, Scandinavia, and northern Canada. In the southern hemisphere it occupies part of the Antarctic continent, summit areas between Chile and Argentina and several subantarctic islands.

There are three types of tundras– Arctic tundra, Alpine tundra, and Antarctic tundra, each has a distinctive landscape, climate, and flora and fauna.

Tundra climate

In the cold months, the tundras have temperatures below 0 ºC.

The tundra is a biome that it is characterized by presenting an extremely cold climate, very strong winds and little rainfall (between 500 and 1000 mm per year). The little rainfall usually occurs in summer (increases in coastal tundra areas) and results in a soil with few nutrients.

Most of the tundras has more than two seasons a year: winter, which is longer than summer, cold and dark; and summer, which is short and has light rainfall. Tundra temperatures are cold throughout the year and vary for each type of tundra. They can reach an average of 5ºC in the warm months and below -20ºC in the cold months. During the summer, the thawing of the upper layer of the soil produces areas of swamps.

Tundra fauna

Animals of the tundra must cope with low rainfall and low temperatures. Some avoid winter by migrating to warmer areas and others have layers of fat under their skin and a thick, short coat that protects them from the cold and wind of the tundra. In addition, it is common to find animals with short legs and small ears, which allows them to have the least amount of skin exposed to low temperatures.

The fauna that inhabits the tundra varies according to the type of tundra and the climatic conditions of each one. The most common animals in the Arctic tundra are: the white hare, the wolf, the arctic fox, the polar bear, the reindeer, the ox, the sea lions and the seals. It is common for many of these animals to have white fur to blend in with the snow or ice on the soil of this biome.

Tundra flora

In many parts of the tundra the soil is covered with moss, lichens, sedges, and ericaceae.

Due to strong winds, the tundra vegetation it is simple in structure and mostly low. In addition, frozen soils and lack of water make it difficult for plant life to survive. However, in many parts of the tundra the soil is covered with moss, lichens, sedges, and ericaceae, which tend to grow in groups.

Although the tall vegetation is scarce or non-existent, it does present vegetation with flowers, about 400 species of vegetation, among which liverworts and flowering grasses stand out.

Tundra soil

Part of the subsoil of the tundras, especially in the arctic tundra in areas such as Russia, Alaska and Canada, it is covered by permafrost, that is, it is completely frozen. This layer has large amounts of carbon product of the decomposition of plants and animals that were retained within it.

In the last moment, the increase in temperatures caused the melting of this frozen layer and the subsequent release into the atmosphere of the retained carbon. This carbon is released in the form of gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, which are greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

In addition to the release of these harmful gases, the melting of the permafrost has other negative consequences, such as the flooding generated by the thaw and the destabilization that occurs in the lands that are on the permafrost.

Types of tundra

Arctic tundra

Arctic tundra is a type of tundra and it is located in the northern hemisphere, in parts of Canada, Alaska and Russia, in areas where the subsoil is frozen and the ground covered with ice or snow. The Arctic tundra can have temperatures below -50 ºC and little rainfall, so it is not common to have trees but a variety of mosses, grasses, plants and flowers.

Faced with very low temperatures, plants grow side by side and they are low in height to protect themselves from the strong winds that hit the area.

When summer arrives, the climate can exceed freezing temperature (0 ºC) so the ground begins to thaw. This allows some insects and birds that migrate during the winter, such as the Arctic owl or the Alaskan common, to return to the Arctic tundra during the summer months when climatic conditions allow them to feed and develop.

The animals that live in this type of tundra have certain physical conditions (such as an extensive layer of fat or dense plumage) that help them survive low temperatures. What’s more, many species hibernate during the winter months.

Some of the species that inhabit the arctic tundra are: reindeer, polar bears, arctic foxes, arctic oxen, lemmings, and polar hares. Too there are a few invertebrates adapted to low temperatures, like mosquitoes and flies.

Alpine tundra

The alpine tundra is a type of tundra found in the mountains of the Earth. Due to the steepness of the mountains in which it is found, the alpine tundra has good drainage, so the subsoil is not frozen.

Temperatures range between 5 and 7 ºC in summer and -40 ºC in winter. What’s more, its climate is characterized by low pressure, strong winds and some precipitations that usually fall in the form of snow.

The low presence of oxygen at altitude and other factors such as low temperatures make life difficult for animals in the alpine tundra. Some species of mammals and birds only inhabit these areas in summer times., such as goats, sheep, chamois and bighorn sheep.

No trees grow in this type of tundra, but herbs and shrubs very similar to those that grow in the Arctic tundra, such as dwarf shrubs, mosses, lichens, and grasses.

Antarctic tundra

The Antarctic tundra is located in the South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula in the southern hemisphere of the planet.

It is a cold climate zone, though it is warmer than other parts of the Antarctic continent, and with some precipitation. There you can find lichens, liver plants, species of terrestrial and aquatic algae and two flowering plants: the Antarctic grass and the Antarctic carnation.

Unlike the arctic tundra, in the Antarctic tundra they do not inhabit mammalsAlthough species such as seals, whales and sea lions do so in the seas that surround Antarctica. Penguins are one of the few birds that inhabit this area, along with other species such as albatrosses and seagulls.

Importance of the tundra

The tundra is a fundamental biome due to the presence of animals and plants that contribute to the biodiversity of the planet. The conservation of these ecosystems allows to maintain environmental balance.

What’s more, it is the only biome in which permafrost exists, which must be kept at its original temperature since its melting produces serious consequences for the development of life on the planet.