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Arctic Tundra

6 April, 2016 - 17:26

The Arctic tundra lies north of the subarctic boreal forests and is located throughout the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere (Figure 20.18). Tundra also exists at elevations above the tree line on mountains. The average winter temperature is –34°C (–34°F) and the average summer temperature is 3°C–12°C (37°F –52°F). Plants in the Arctic tundra have a short growing season of approximately 50–60 days. However, during this time, there are almost 24 hours of daylight and plant growth is rapid. The annual precipitation of the Arctic tundra is low (15–25 cm or 6–10 in) with little annual variation in precipitation. And, as in the boreal forests, there is little evaporation because of the cold temperatures.

Plants in the Arctic tundra are generally low to the ground and include low shrubs, grasses, lichens, and small flowering plants (Figure 20.26). There is little species diversity, low net primary productivity, and low aboveground biomass. The soils of the Arctic tundra may remain in a perennially frozen state referred to as permafrost. The permafrost makes it impossible for roots to penetrate far into the soil and slows the decay of organic matter, which inhibits the release of nutrients from organic matter. The melting of the permafrost in the brief summer provides water for a burst of productivity while temperatures and long days permit it. During the growing season, the ground of the Arctic tundra can be completely covered with plants or lichens.

Figure 20.26 Low-growing plants such as shrub willow dominate the tundra landscape during the summer, shown here in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (credit: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, USFWS)


Watch this Assignment Discovery: Biomes ( video for an overview of biomes. To explore further, select one of the biomes on the extended playlist: desert, savanna, temperate forest, temperate grassland, tropic, tundra.