Tundra, the "ice desert", "frozen prairie",  the cold plains of the Far North get their name from the Finnish word "tunturia", which means treeless land. The tundra biome is the coldest of all terrestrial eco-systems, and also the most chaotic. Still, the tundra is host to a surprising number of plants and animals, and represents a fascinating testament to nature's adaptability, and cruel beauty.

Map of World Biomes
Images of Tundra Biomes

Arctic tundra 

The arctic tundra occupies earth's Northern hemisphere, circling the North Pole all the way down to the evergreen forests of the boreal biomes.  The arctic tundra sees little rainfall, like the cold deserts of russia.  The soil of the arctic  tundra is poor in nutrients, which accounts for the low amount of vegetation. There is an under-layer of soil called permafrost which remains completely frozen at all times, allowing little room for deep rooting plants and trees.  The plants that do survive the frozen landscapes are extremely resilient, and their roots are close to the surface of the hard soil, as to intake what little water falls upon the ground; most of the arctic tundra's plant life consists of shrubbery, lichen, moss, and flowers.  Icy rivers flow through the tundra to the arctic ocean, and are home to trout, salmon and other freshwater fish. Sometimes rainfall produces small, temporary ponds, which serve as mating areas for flies and mosquitoes. 

Other animal species occupying the tundra consist of polar bears, caribou, musk ox, grey wolves, lemmings, rabbits, squirrels, and birds such as penguins, falcons, ravens, terns, and loons.  All are greatly adapted to their environment, with extra layers of fat, and the ability to hibernate during the colder months, although this has more to do with the lack of food than the cold.  Birds of the tundra migrate south during the winter months, causing constant change in the animal population.

Alpine tundra

The alpine tundra biome exists on rocky mountaintops and is very similar to the arctic tundra except for a conspicuous lack of trees.  Because trees cannot grow at this high altitude, most of the alpine tundra plant life consists of shrubbery and small leafy plants such as alpine bluegrass which serve as dinner to a variety of grazing animals such as bighorn sheep and mountain goats.  Other alpine tundra animals include elk, pika, marmots, and birds such as the white-tailed parmigan and the grouse, and a few insects like grasshoppers, bumblebees, and beetles.

The Tundra


Tundra in the Rockies

The Tundra (Biomes of the World)
by Elizabeth Kaplan (Library Binding - September 1995)

Tundra (Exploring Earth's Biomes)
by April Pulley Sayre (Library Binding - May 1995)

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