Climate and Nature of the Coldest Biom on Earth, Tundra

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The biome that I picked for this paper is the coldest place on earth known as the Tundra. I picked this biome because of global warming which has sadly been negatively impacting the biome as a whole. I also just really, really like the penguins. That’s basically all I like period. Hands down. Along with the seals. The Tundra is a cold ecosystem that consists of temperatures less than 5 Celcius along with precipitation at less than 100 mm per year. During the summer, the season is brief as temperatures remain above freezing for only a few weeks as a whole. Plant growth can be described as explosive during the summer because of the temperatures. The Tundra spreads across the northern hemisphere in Greenland, Northern Russia’s islands, and the Canadian islands. The Tundra remains strictly in these regions because there are no landmasses that are in the southern hemisphere that have the appropriate climate. In the Tundra there is a large variety of plant life, these tend to grow low to the ground. The species include willows, sedges, and grasses while many are in dwarf-like forms. In the harshest climates, there are plants like Lichens and mosses which are both able to handle these climates while they can’t handle growth in the warmer climates. Plants are also well adapted to handle sweeping winds & if there are disturbances in the soil. They are also adapted to grow shortly & group together to resist the cold temperatures while the snow shields them during the winter. Their growing seasons have adapted as well, as they are short while most plants reproduce by budding and division instead of through flowering.

In the Tundra, there are herbivores that include lemmings, voles, caribou, arctic hares, and squirrels. There are carnivores that include arctic foxes, wolves, wolves, and polar bears. For migratory birds, there are ravens, snow buntings, falcons, loons, ravens, sandpipers, terns, snowbirds, and various species of gulls. Insects include mosquitoes, flies, moths, grasshoppers, blackflies and arctic bumblebees and finally, there’s fish which include cod, flatfish, salmon, and trou. The animals of the Tundra are adapted to handle long and cold winters to breed and raise young quickly during the summer season. Mammals & Birds have additional insulation from fat and many are adapted to hibernate during the winter as food is not as abundant. Birds are adapted to migrate to the south, during the winter instead of hibernating. While Mammals & Birds are present, Reptiles and Amphibians are not present because of the extremely cold temperatures. However, because of them constantly immigrating the populations of these animals constantly move.

The Caribou is an animal that lives in the Tundra, they belong in the Animalia kingdom, Phylum Chordata, and in the Mammalia class. They have brown shaggy fur and a white neck although in some areas Caribou can be almost entirely white. They are the only deer species in which both males & females have antlers. While the female antlers are smaller and straighter, the male’s antlers are large and branch out. They have double-layered coats of fur, an outer coat of straight hair and a wooly undercoat. The Caribou can be found in Alaska, and in Canada south from British Columbia to Eastern Washington. They can also be found across the northern regions of Europe and Asia where it’s common name is the reindeer. The Caribou’s diet consists of lichens, mushrooms, grasses, sedges, flowering tundra plants, the twigs of birches and willows, and fruit. The Caribou are constantly on the mood as they constantly need to look for food. When migrating in the spring they can move in a herd of thousands of their own kind and travel thousands of miles every year. In the summer as an adaptation, their footpads are soft which helps them walk on soggy snow. While in the winter, their footpads shrink, harden and are covered with fur which helps them move easier on the snow and ice much like the arctic fox. Not only have they adapted to run up to 50 miles an hour, but amazingly, they are good swimmers as well and can swim at speeds of 6 mph.

The Polar Bear is a predator in the Animalia kingdom of the Tundra, they are also in the Chordata phylum. The polar bear can be found around the North Pole in areas such as Greenland, the far northern areas of North America, Europe, and Asia. The polar bear usually lives near the water and often on ice floes to search for food. Depending on the pack of ice in the arctic, they will move from one ice floe to the other in search of food. The primary food source for the polar bear is fish, seabirds, and sometimes caribou. Although they can also eat arctic foxes, while in the summer they also eat berries and other plants. The polar bear travels around to find its food, as they often follow seals as they migrate to the south. They usually travel alone and stay near the edge of the water. The polar bear is adapted to be a good swimmer, and they spend a lot of their time in the water hunting for seals. These animals can swim up to 60 miles without resting and can swim at speeds of 6 miles an hour. Which at these speeds they are able to catch their prey and follow them until they catch them. Polar bears can also dive at depths of 15 ft and can stay underwater for about two minutes which allows them time to catch any fish. They have two layers of white fur, which helps it blend in with the environment around it.

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While there is a soft inner coat, their outer coat consists of guard hairs which are hollow and help them stay afloat. On the soles of its feet, they have fur that protects them from the cold, and from sliding on the ice. Their feet have also some webbing in between the toes which helps it paddle in the water. But what are the keystone animals of the Tundra and how do they affect not just the food chain in the Tundra but the ecosystem as a whole? These two animals are the Arctic foxes, and the Lemmings.

The Arctic Fox is the first keystone species of the Tundra. These animals are overall adapted to live at high latitudes. The Arctic Fox is in the Chordata phylum, and a carnivorous Mammalia. They can be found in western Alaska east through Northern Canada and in Greenland. In the arctic regions of Europe, Asia and Iceland they can also be found in these areas. While they can be found in the Tundra, the Arctic Fox lives at the edge of forests in this ecosystem in ice floes where they can use their white coat as camouflage. In the summer, the Arctic Fox is dark grey to brown to bluish brown in the summer while in the winter, their fur is a creamy white. The Arctic fox has multiple adaptations that have allowed them to survive in the Tundra. One way is how they conserve heat which includes thick fur, and short features. Their round compact bodies minimizes how much of them is exposed to the cold air. The arctic foxes have also short muzzles, ears, and legs which exposes less of the fox to the cold. To maintain a consistent body temperature, the Arctic fox has deep thick fur on its body while the thick fur on their paws, helps them walk on not just snow, but also ice.

Their diet consists of anything they can come across in the wild. This would include small mammals such as lemmings, voles, squirrels, birds, insects, eggs, berries and carrion. Often the Arctic fox can be found following polar bears and wolves to scavenge off of the leftovers of their prey. In the summer, they carry extra food to their dens and store it under the rocks to eat later. They use this method to store food in their dens by digging a hole in the permafrost and storing food in it like a freezer. While the lemmings are the primary food source for the arctic fox, their population often peeks every four years that follow the cycle when the lemming’s population changes. Because this animal is preyed on by polar bears, wolves, kittiwakes, and owls it is the main supplier of food for these animals.

The arctic fox is in a mutualistic relationship with polar bears as they travel behind them to get their scraps. While the arctic fox benefits from the food, the polar bear has no effect from this relationship. Lemmings are also considered a keystone species in the Tundra because their populations fluctuate and affect the rest of the organisms in the environment. If there are fewer lemmings, for example, the arctic fox population goes down along with them as I covered above, the arctic fox population fluctuates along with the lemmings’. If the arctic fox was to be taken out of the ecosystem as a whole, the predators that prey on arctic foxes will decrease drastically. Which could also be worse for the tundra because with less arctic foxes, the population of polar bears will decrease and disrupt the entire ecosystem as a whole. Without polar bears, then other animals the polar bears prey on will likely increase which would add more disruption to the ecosystem.

Another keystone prey species in the Tundra regions is the Lemmings as they are prey to snowy owls, arctic foxes, weasels, and jaegers. They are small mouse-like animals, which their fur is usually brown in the summer while it turns white in the winter to help it blend in. They mainly eat moss and grass while foraging through the surface of the snow where they look for berries, leaves, shoots, roots, bulbs, and lichens. These animals often have fluctuations in their populations which affect the populations of predators for example: whenever the population of the lemmings grows, the populations of predators grow. However, if the population of the predators grows too large, it causes a huge decrease in the lemmings’ population. As mentioned above this can cause a low intake in food for the predators as there are fewer lemmings which causes their population to decline.

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