What is the tundra: features, types, flora and fauna

The tundra is one of the coldest ecosystems

Maybe you’ve heard of something called “tundra” before, whether it’s in a movie, TV show, or documentary. But what is the tundra? Surely you have already discovered that it’s a very cold biome, generally covered in snow and with little vegetation. Despite its deserted appearance, there’s a lot we can learn about it.

In this article we will explain what the tundra is, what types exist and what are its flora and fauna. These seemingly empty and lifeless plains, are home to a very resilient and interesting ecosystem, It is able to withstand extremely cold temperatures. If the subject interests you, please continue reading.


What is the tundra and its characteristics?

In the tundra, the climate is cold, the wind is strong and there is little precipitation.

Let’s start by explaining what the tundra is and what its characteristics are. It is a terrestrial ecosystem. This biome is one of the coldest on the surface of the earth. It is therefore not surprising that the literal translation of his name is “treeless plain”. Many people call this biome “polar desert”. The main characteristics of the tundra are:

  • Very cold weather.
  • Low rainfall.
  • Strong winds.
  • Little biological diversity.
  • Soil fairly poor in nutrients.

Compared to other ecosystems and biomes, the tundras remain relatively unknown to this day. Due to its geographical location, so far from human beings, and its difficult access, both because of the weather conditions and the relief, These are areas that have not been fully studied.

These territories are found in the polar regions and at high latitudes, its primary location being the northern hemisphere. Additionally, the tundras cover regions such as Iceland, Siberia, Alaska, the highlands between Argentina and Chile, various subantarctic islands, the southernmost part of Greenland, northern Antarctica , northern Canada and northern Europe, including Scandinavia and Russia. It should be noted that on the peaks there is also the tundra, due to cold weather, strong winds and low rainfall.


The geographical location of the tundras being generally close to the poles and at a considerable altitude, it is not surprising that the temperature there remains below zero degrees most of the year, between six and ten months. In fgeneral, winters in these biomes are dark, long, dry, and very cold. In some regions, temperatures can drop to minus 70°C. While it is true that the surface is usually snow-covered most of the year, in summer some light precipitation may appear, yes, in the form of snow.

In the most extreme areas of the tundra, the average temperature varies between 6°C and -12°C. However, in mountain peaks and in high areas, temperatures of up to ten degrees can occur. Of course, at night they will again fall below zero degrees.

types of tundra

There are three types of tundra

Depending on the regions or areas where the tundra is found, they can be classified into three groups in total:

  1. arctic tundra
  2. alpine tundra
  3. Antarctic tundra

Below we will talk in more detail about these three types of biomes.

arctic tundra

First we have the arctic tundra. This is located in the northern hemisphere, just below the famous arctic ice caps. The expansion of this region occupies all the inhospitable territory until reaching the limits of forests composed of conifers, which are already part of another biome called taiga. Seen on a map, the arctic tundra would occupy a significant part of Alaska and half of Canada.

It should be noted that andOn most of this territory, we find “permafrost”. It is a permanently frozen layer of subsoil. In the event that water saturates the surface, ponds and bogs may form. This way the plants can get some moisture.

Concerning the vegetation, there is no deep root system. Nevertheless, yes, there is a wide variety of cold-resistant vegetables, such as grasses, liverworts, sedges, mosses, low shrubs, etc.

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The animals that inhabit these territories are adapted to withstand very cold and long winters. In addition, they have the ability to reproduce and breed very quickly in the summer. It should be noted that mammals and birds living in arctic tundra often have additional fat insulation. Because food is scarce in winter, many animals hibernate, while others migrate south, especially birds. As for amphibians and reptiles, they are very few, if not totally absent, in these regions precisely because of the extremely low temperatures. Due to the constant emigration and immigration that exists in this type of tundra, the population is constantly changing.

alpine tundra

When we talk about the alpine tundra, we refer to those found in the mountains, regardless of their location on Earth. It is usually found at significant heights above sea level, where vegetation is sparse and no type of tree grows. Normally, the growing season lasts about 180 days. At night, the temperature often drops below what would be the freezing point. A characteristic that distinguishes it from arctic tundra is that the soil is well drained.

The vegetation that exists in the alpine tundra is very similar to that of the Arctic. This includes shrubs and small-leaved heathers, herbs such as grasses and dwarf trees. The fauna of these regions is very well adapted to the conditions. We can find various mammals such as mountain goats, marmots and sheep. Certain birds with particularly cold-resistant coats and certain insects, such as butterflies, grasshoppers and beetles, also inhabit this type of tundra.

Antarctic tundra

As for the Antarctic tundra, It is one of the less frequent ecosystems, but not non-existent. It can be found in some of the Kerguelen Islands, the South Sandwich Islands and the South Georgia Islands, the latter two being British territory.

What is the flora and fauna of the tundra?

The tundra has flora and fauna

Considering the type of climate in the tundras, it is the most normal thing in the world that animals have evolved and adapted to cold and harsh temperatures. They have very thick layers of fat under their skin, while the coat is usually thick and long. In order to better camouflage themselves, some are usually white, which allows them to hide more easily in the snow and escape predators.

Among the animals of the tundra better known we can find the following:

  • various species of birds
  • musk oxen
  • Polar bears
  • caribou
  • reindeer
  • wolves
  • Hare
  • arctic foxes
  • falcons
  • Sea lions (near the sea or on the coast)
  • Different types of seals (near the sea or on the coasts)

Since there is a greater amount of food in the arctic tundra, this is where you can also find a greater variety of animals than in the alpine tundra.


Since the tundra is essentially a layer of snow and ice that covers most of the ground, forests, and land, it may seem like there is no vegetation, but there is. As the growing seasons are generally short, plants tend to be short and unassuming. They have become quite well adapted to such terrain thanks to hairy stems and the ability to flower and grow rapidly in such short summers.

As already mentioned, such low temperatures do not allow trees to grow, unlike small plants. There are up to 400 different species of flowering plants in the tundra. Of course, it should be noted that they are quite scattered throughout the territory. This is due to the weather conditions of the place and low rainfall. Additionally, the lack of decaying organic matter, which is ultimately what provides nutrients to the soil for plants, is also of paramount importance. Some of the most common vegetables in these regions are:

  • lichens
  • Cotton
  • Poppy
  • berry plants
  • Dwarf Fire Grass
  • dwarf willow

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In total there are about 1700 different species of plants, including liverworts and grasses. In summer, the tundras are often awash with tiny alpine flowers and the landscape turns green with the abundance of growing mosses, sedges, heathers, dwarf shrubs, lichens and grasses. They are generally small vegetables that resist strong winds better than other plants, being able to protect themselves from snowfall by growing between rocks.

Well, it looks like we’ve gathered a lot of information about what the tundra is. As you can see, even the most inhospitable landscapes are home to life, and lots of it!

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