Biomes are the major regional habitat groupings of plants and animals on Earth. There are five major types of biomes: aquatic, desert, forest, grassland, and tundra. Of these biomes, the tundra is the world’s youngest and coldest biome.” The tundra’s climate, low biotic diversity, simple vegetation structure, seasons, flora and fauna, and population oscillations define it as a biomes.
The climate in the tundra is very cold, and the main seasons are summer and winter with very short spring and fall seasons. The average temperature is -18 degrees Fahrenheit. During the winter, nights last for weeks and temperatures can drop to -94 degrees, and during the summer, the sun shines almost 24 hours per day, sometimes leading to maximum temperatures of 54 degrees. Additionally, the tundra is very windy (winds can blow between 30 to 60 miles per hour), and has very little precipitation. Only about 6 – 10 inches of precipitation (mostly snow) fall each year.
The naming of the tundra from a Finnish word meaning “barren land” is relatively apt, as the climate in the tundra leads to a very simple vegetation structure and low biotic diversity. The ground in the tundra is permanently frozen 10 inches to 3 feet at all times. As a result, no trees can grow in the tundra and only low-growing plants like mosses, heaths, and lichen can be supported. In the winter, the top layer of permafrost melts, creating marshes, lakes, bogs, and streams that breed insects and attract migrating birds. Therefore, though the tundra is limited to many sorts of plant life, it attracts birds and insects.
The highly simple vegetation structure is one of the key characteristics of the tundra. Because of environmental conditions, there is barely any vegetation in the tundra. Only about 1,700 different species grow, mostly shrubs, sedges, mosses, lichens and grasses, and some 400 varieties of flowers. The growing season is only about 50 to 60 days long. There are a few birch trees in the lower latitudes of the tundra, but otherwise there are no trees because the ground is always frozen beneath the top layer of soil. As a result, trees can’t send their roots down. Additionally, the soil is very low in nutrients and minerals, except where animal droppings fertilize the soil.
There are some animals in the tundra, but very little biodiversity in general. For example, there are only 48 species of mammals in it. However, there are many of each of the species which include shrews, hares, rodents, wolves, foxes, bears and deer. These animals feed on lichens and plants. Wolves, wolverines, arctic foxes, and polar bears are the predators that feed on the smaller mammals. Additionally, birds like the harlequin duck, plovers, and sandpipers migrate to the tundra. Animals must adapt to handle long, cold winters ad breed and raise young quickly in the winter.
Though biodiversity is low in the tundra, there are also a few species of insects. Black flies, deer flies, and small biting midges occupy the tundra during the summer. Mosquitoes keep themselves from freezing by replacing the water in the bodies with glycerol, which functions as an antifreeze in the snow, even during the winter at times.
Because of the constant immigration and emigration of organisms into the tundra when animals move south from the tundra, the population is constantly oscillating. Therefore, less plant resources are used during the winter and there is less competition. Therefore, during the summer, there is also a presence of organisms that have not adapted to long winters.
Though the tundra is barren and cold, it is not a completely useless wasteland. In fact, it is a place where many plants and animals make their home. These species have made tremendous adaptations to foster an environment where they are able to live in harsh conditions. The presence of the tundra on Earth shows how species can be driven by evolution to persist in and adapt to environments that are normally inhabitable.
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