The tundra biome is the largest biome on this planet, constituting almost 1/5th of the total surface of the earth. There are two main types of tundra that exists. These are the Arctic Tundra and the Alpine Tundra.
The Arctic tundra is situated in the northern hemisphere, in the Arctic circle, which is the coldest spot on earth! Studies show that the northern pole, where the tundra is located, wasn't this cold in the past. It is due to the gradual movements of plates that make the surface of the earth and the constant change in the climatic conditions of the world that has resulted in the current climatic conditions of the tundra.
The Alpine tundra consists of the high altitude areas consisting the mountains tops. Many people think that tundra also exists in Antarctica. Antarctica is too cold for any life to develop in it. However, some parts of Antarctica, like the Antarctic Peninsula, has climatic conditions to support vegetation. However, the conditions in Antarctica are unfavorable to form an ideal tundra, which is why some experts do not consider the Antarctic tundra to be a true tundra.
When we speak about the tundra biome, we usually refer to the Arctic tundra, which also happens to be the youngest biome among all, formed about 10,000 years ago! Because of the unusual geographical location of the tundra biome, each and everything about this place is unusual and mysterious. For example, during summer season, the sun shines in the tundra biome for 24 hours, which means that it is bright and sunny even during the midnight! The flora and fauna in the tundra have adapted themselves to the climate and the surroundings of the tundra biome. As you continue to read further about this spot on earth, you will discover as to how different and unimaginable it is to be a resident of the largest biome on earth.
Climate in the Tundra Biome
Whenever we think of the tundra, we think about the snow, the freezing temperature, and the polar bears! However, the tundra is everything that you can think of, and more! I have already mentioned about the '24 hour sunlight' during the summer, right? The climatic conditions of the Tundra region are nothing like what we have experienced. Mentioned below, are some important facts about the weather in the tundra.
Location of The Artic Tundra
The Arctic tundra is located at the latitude range of 55° - 70°North. The winters are dominant in this part of the world and the summers are usually short and hot. There is hardly any rainfall in the tundra biome, which explains why there are less flora and fauna in this place.
Did You Know ?
The average temperature observed in tundra region during winters is around -34 °C (-30 °F), but it can also go down to as low as -70 °C (-94 °F). During summers, the average temperature is about 12 °C (54 °F), but it can drop down to even 3 °C (37 °F). On an average, the annual temperature in the Tundra biome is less than 5 °C (41 °F). The tundra biome is also dominated by cold and freezing winds that travel at a high speed of about 30 - 60 miles an hour.
Rainfall in Tundra Region
Precipitation in the Tundra biome is quite low, less than 100 mm (15 - 25 cm) annually. A significant part of the total precipitation usually occurs in the form of melting snow which happens during the summers (May - July). Although, a slight amount of precipitation can also be observed in the winters.
The Land of The Midnight Sun
Because of the 'nowhere to be found climatic conditions', the tundra biome is also known as the Land of the Midnight Sun! Seriously, there is no other place on the planet where you can see that!
The climatic conditions in the tundra have also resulted in permafrost, which is the layer of soil that is permanently frozen. The permafrost is almost one meter deep (25 - 90 cm), and it never melts.
Fauna in the Tundra Biome
I am sure after understanding the climatic conditions of the tundra region, you must be thinking that it is impossible for any living being to survive on this land, right? I too, thought the same. However, I forgot the fact that living beings learn to adapt based on the environment that they live in, and yes, even in the tundra biome, there are various species of fauna that have learned to adapt and survive even the harshest of conditions.
The tundra biome has almost 48 mammal species, which is very little as compared to the rest of the world. But, the number is quite good when taking the climatic conditions into consideration. The fauna in the tundra region mainly includes animals like polar bears, arctic fox, snowy owl, musk ox, reindeer, Dall sheep, and penguins.
Insects in Tundra
During summers, the tundra also sees the emergence of insects like the mosquitoes, blow flies, spiders, springtails, beetles, moths, grasshoppers, and weevils. These insects have adapted to antifreeze their blood which helps them survive during winters.
Birds in Tundra
During the summers, various species of birds travel to the tundra biome to feed on the insects which tend to multiply during the summers. Birds like the snow geese, the tundra swans, the arctic terns, loons, falcons, and penguins fill up the tundra in summers and then migrate down south during the winters. Due to this migration, the population of the birds keep on changing depending upon the season.
Adaptation is the key to survival, and none can understand this better than the tundra animals! Slowly and steadily, their bodies have adapted themselves in such a way, that the thick layer of fat in their bodies help them survive while they hibernate during the extreme winters. The young ones in the tundra biome tend to grow and learn to adapt to the situation extremely fast. They usually grow and learn to survive in the summers, which do not last for more than 6 - 10 weeks.
Apart from the aforementioned animals, you can also find few species of fish including the flatfish, salmon, cod, and trout. You will also find lemmings, arctic hare, and snowshoe rabbits in this region.
Flora in the Tundra Biome
Now, we know that the tundra is the home to animals like the musk ox, Dall sheep, and arctic hare, and what is the one thing common to all these animals? They are all herbivores! So, how does the tundra feed them? What all plants grow in the tundra biome
Did You Know ?
The term 'tundra' is derived from a Finnish word tunturia, which means the 'barren land'. Some sources also state that the term is derived from a Russian word tūndâr, which means 'treeless mountain tract". Therefore, the tundra biome is a place where the growth of trees is impossible due to the permafrost.
The tundra biome consists of more than 1700 species of flora in the arctic and subarctic regions. These consists of crowberry, black bearberry, grasses, sedges, liverworts, reindeer mosses, lichens, tufted saxifrage, birches, and willow trees. The dwarf willow tree in the tundra region is only 5 cm tall and tends to spread itself all over the ground. There are over 400 different species of flowers which include the yellow saxifrage flowers and the dwarf fireweed.
Did You Know ?
The arctic moss, which is abundantly found in the tundra, is given the title of the longest living and slowest growing freshwater macrophyte in the world. It grows in the lake beds of the tundra and around the fens and the bogs which are formed during the summers.
Even the flora of the tundra biome has adapted themselves to the harsh climatic conditions. The plants usually grow in groups so that they can save themselves from the harsh winds and the low temperatures to some extent. In fact, they are also capable of carrying out the process of photosynthesis with minimal sunlight.
So, how did you like these facts about the tundra biome? Interesting? Well, there is something else that you should be aware of, it is the threat that the tundra biome is facing at the moment. The tundra biome was considered as one of the largest sink of carbon dioxide wherein this greenhouse gas was present in its frozen form in the permafrost. But due to the rise in global warming, the permafrost is likely to melt in the near future, which in turn, would result in the release of carbon dioxide and methane, thereby affecting the tundra ecosystem to a great extent! Also, gradual rise in temperatures is likely to endanger the flora and fauna species in the tundra. Global warming would turn the tundra into one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. Scientists have predicted that, as the global warming increases, the existing climatic conditions of the tundra will be in danger. They also say that the degree of global warming in the future will only decide if the tundra will make it to the next century the same way it is now. The question to be asked is, "what are we doing to stop this in our own little way?"