TUNDRA

Tundra is a cold habitat with long winters, low temperatures, permafrost soils, short vegetation, brief growing seasons and little drainage. The Alpine tundra exists on mountains around the planet at elevations above the tree line. The Arctic tundra is near the North Pole, extending southward to where coniferous forests grow.

 Arctic tundra in the Northern Hemisphere is between the North Pole and the boreal forest. In the Southern Hemisphere it exists on remote islands off the coast of Antarctica and on the Antarctic peninsula. The Arctic and Antarctic tundra are home to over 1,700 species of plants including grasses, mosses, sedges, lichens and shrubs.

 Alpine tundra is a high-altitude ecosystem located on mountains around the earth at elevations above the tree line. Alpine tundra soils are well drained compared to tundra soils. Alpine tundra is home to small shrubs, dwarf trees, tussock grasses and heaths.

The tundra is home to the arctic fox, wolverines, polar bears, northern bog lemmings, muskox, arctic terns, muskoxen and snow buntings.

 

 Tundra are the coldest areas on the planet and are quite different from every other habitat on earth. During the summer, the days receive 24 hours of sun. During the winter, the sun is almost absent entirely. Animals of the polar regions are adapted to frigid temperatures, often with thick layers of fat or blubber to insulate their bodies.

The two main polar regions are the Arctic and the Antarctic. The Arctic Circle and Arctic Tundra are located at the North Pole and stretch 5 million square miles to the top of the Northern Hemisphere. The Antarctic is located at the South Pole. While the animals differ greatly at each pole, the polar regions are similar environments.

The Arctic is an ice continent floating on the ocean. The Antarctic is a rocky continent that is covered in ice. Little rainfall occurs in the polar regions, and there is very little water in the air. The Arctic is connected to Canada and Europe, so more plant and animal species are found there. The Antarctic is completely isolated from other land masses, so fewer plants and animals are found there. The Arctic Circle also features warmer springs and summers, encouraging the growth of plants. Herbivorous animals are attracted to feed on the plants and grasses.

1,700 species of plants and 48 species of land mammals are known to live in the tundra. Millions of birds also migrate there each year for the marshes. Few frogs or lizards live in the tundra. Foxes, lemmings, Arctic hares and Arctic owls live in the tundra. Wolves are the top predators. Polar bears dominate the frozen waters. Seals, sea lions, orcas, whales, walruses and narwhals feed on fish in the Arctic Circle.

 

 In Antarctica, no plants grow on the surface so animals live on carnivorous diets. Numerous species of fish, crustacean and mollusc are found in the waters beneath the ice for birds and mammals to feed on. Penguins are the most common animal. Larger predators include leopard seals, orcas and whales.

Changes in the climate are the biggest threat to polar regions. Increasing temperatures can cause the ice to melt, threatening habitats. The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 prevents Antarctica from being commercially exploited. The Arctic is not protected where mining for oil and minerals, over-fishing and hunting threatens species and habitats.

 

TUNDRA FACTS

SEALS AND SEA LIONS UNDER SIEGE

The image of seals and sea lions conjures up thousands of these creatures basking on the rocky beaches of the U.S. West coast, Australia and Tasmania and ice floes of the Arctics. While similarities between these two amphibious mammals seem apparent, there are some inherent differences. The pinniped, the family to which these two belong, consists of the phocidae or true seals and otariidae or sea lions. True seals are believed to have descended from a terrestrial creature closely resembling the weasel.

WHICH POLE IS COLDER?

Both the Arctic (North Pole) and the Antarctic (South Pole) are cold because they don’t get any direct sunlight. The sun is always low on the horizon, even in the middle of summer. In winter, the sun is so far below the horizon that it doesn’t come up at all for months at a time. So the days are just like the nights—cold and dark. Even though the North Pole and South Pole are “polar opposites,” they both get the same amount of sunlight.

WINNERS AND LOSERS IN THE ARCTIC

If you're a Bowhead whale and you spend summers in the Arctic—congratulations! Life is good. Your food supply is growing and your waters are warming. Your summer "vacation" lasts a few weeks longer now than it used to (say, back in 1980). That's because there isn't as much sea ice and it doesn't form as early in the fall as it used to.

PENGUINS FACE AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Penguins waddle around in ungainly fashion on ground, but once in water they transform into expert swimmers and can cruise at speeds of 15 miles per hour. Although the penguin is a bird species, they are unable to fly because they have flippers instead of wings. The penguin's black body and white belly is an excellent aquatic camouflage when it sets out to hunt for food, which mainly consists of fish, crabs, squid and shrimps.

SAVE THE SEALS

Each year thousands of seals are killed in Canada. The seals suffer painful and lingering deaths. The weapon used is a club, the brutal hakapik. Sometimes the seals are skinned alive. Sealers often use sharpened steel hooks to drag the creatures on board their vessels. Seal-clubbing is justified by the Canadian government because its victims are adversely affecting the profits of the Newfoundland fishing industry.

POLAR BEARS IN DANGER

Our oceans, seas, rivers and lakes are home to a large percentage of the animal species of earth. Many mammals have adapted to life in the water. Even those that never leave it still have lungs to breath oxygen and give birth to live young. Most of us know that whales and dolphins are aquatic mammals, living exclusively in the ocean, but there are semi-aquatic mammals, like seals, sealions, manatee and walrus, that live both in the sea and on the land.

WHALE

Whales range in size from the blue whale, the largest animal known to have ever existed, to pygmy species such as the pygmy sperm whale. Whales inhabit all the world's oceans and number in the millions. They are long-lived; humpback whales living for up to 95 years, while bowhead whales may live for more than a century. Human hunting of whales from the seventeenth century until 1986 radically reduced the populations of some whale species.

ORCA

Majestic sea dwellers, superb hunters and socially complex beings, orcas (also known as killer whales or blackfish) are the largest members of the oceanic family Delphinidae, which includes dolphins, pilot whales, melon-headed whales and false killer whales. They’re found in every ocean in the world and most seas as well, including the Arctic and Antarctic regions and the warmer seas of the Mediterranean and Arabian, but have been counted in highest densities in the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans, in the Gulf of Alaska and Southern Ocean. Although they can have an enormous range, they typically tend to prefer to stay closer to coastal areas versus swimming in deeper ocean waters.

WALRUS

Walrus, a marine mammal, Odobenus rosmarus, is found in Arctic seas. It is the largest of the fin-footed mammals, or pinnipeds. The walrus is also distinguished by its long tusks and by cheek pads bearing quill-like bristles. Adult males are 10 feet long or more, and weigh up to 3,000 lb; females weigh about two thirds as much as males. The tusks, which are elongated upper canine teeth, may reach a length of 3 feet in large males and weigh over 10 lb. The hide is very thick and wrinkled, and is light brown and nearly hairless. Beneath the hide is a layer of fat several inches thick.

REINDEER

The reindeer, also known as the caribou in North America, is a deer from the Arctic and Subarctic, including both resident and migratory populations. While overall widespread and numerous, some of its subspecies are rare and one has already gone extinct.

POLAR BEAR

The polar bear rivals the Kodiak bear as the largest four-footed carnivore on earth and can live up to 25 years. Although the polar bear’s coat appears white, each individual hair is actually a clear hollow tube that channels the sun’s energy directly to the bear’s skin and helps it stay warm. The polar bear’s entire body is furred, even the bottom of its paws. That helps prevent bears from slipping on the ice. The polar bear is classified as a marine mammal. Its feet are partially webbed for swimming, and its fur is water-repellent. A formidable predator, it has extremely sharp claws.

SEAL

Seals are carnivorous aquatic mammals with front and hind feet modified as flippers, or fin-feet. The name seal is sometimes applied broadly to any of the fin-footed mammals, or pinnipeds, including the walrus, the eared seals (sea lion and fur seal), and the true seals, also called earless seals, hair seals, or phocid seals. More narrowly the term is applied only to true seals.

PENGUIN

Penguins are flightless sea birds. They can be many different colors from the chest up. Most species have black backs and white fronts. Penguins are able to control their body temperature on land by facing either their black back or white front to the sun. This coloration also camouflages them in the water. They have a thick layer of blubber that helps keep them warm.