tundra characteristics

5 Tundra Characteristics Explained

Tundra characteristics are; relatively-low biodiversity, cold climatic condition, thin humus soil with permafrost, low precipitation, and sparsity of perennial vegetation.


This article discusses tundra characteristics, as follows;






1). Relatively Low Biodiversity (as one of the Tundra Characteristics)

Biodiversity of the tundra is low compared to that of other ecosystems like forests.

The low biodiversity of the tundra is due to multiple factors, such as extreme cold temperatures, low soil productivity, low precipitation, prolonged winter, and short breeding season [7].

Tundra is similar to the desert in terms of biodiversity, although its is generally more biodiverse than the desert, especially in terms of plant organisms.

Animals in the tundra include vertebrates and invertebrates, autotrophs and heterotrophs, carnivores, herbivores and omnivores. These organisms occupy all main trophic levels of a typical ecologic pyramid.

However, unlike forests that have high species diversity at every trophic level, tundras have fewer species in each organic category.

These species are those which have become highly adapted to the conditions of the tundra, and exhibit physiological and behavioral characteristics like hibernation, seasonal migration and thick fur.

Tundra Characteristics: Relatively-low Biodiversity (Credit: Boylan Mike, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2013)
Tundra Characteristics: Relatively-low Biodiversity (Credit: Boylan Mike, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2013)






2). Cold Climatic Condition

The climate of the tundra is characterized by low precipitation, low average annul temperature, and prolonged winter seasons that may last up to 10 months per annum.

Tundra climate is cold because it is geographically situated at high latitude where the intensity of solar radiation is relatively low, and some regions like the alpine tundra occur at high elevation above sea level, and has access to low-pressure air.

The tundra climate is recognized as one of the important types of climate according to Köppen classification [2].

Two types of tundra climate are arctic and alpine climates; where the arctic climate is cold and dry with very short growing season, and the alpine climate is more moderate, and includes a slightly-longer, cool summer season.

Summer or growing season in the tundra ranges between 50 and 60 days on average. The coldest temperature in the tundra is less than -10 °C, and may drop to as low as -50 °C in some cases [1].

The cold climatic condition of the tundra is very important for shaping many of its characteristics, include sparse growth of trees and low animal biodiversity.






3). Thin Humus Soil with Permafrost (as one of the Tundra Characteristics)

Tundra soil a thin, organic layer of weathered rock, plant and animal biomass, which overlie a frozen subsoil or permafrost layer.

The type of soil in the tundra is cryosol; whose characteristics include high organic carbon and nitrogen content, and frigid aggregate material [5]. Organic carbon is high due to significant rates of carbon sequestration that are facilitated by the low temperature conditions.

Soil is thin in the tundra biome because perpetually-low temperatures prevent extensive thawing of permafrost in the region, so that the only loose earth material is that which comes mostly from biodegradation of animal and plant remains.

This soil is therefore rich in organic content, but is too thin to support the growth of any significant amount of vegetation, resulting in vegetative sparseness that leaves many areas with only a thin frozen layer of moss.

The thickness of soil in the tundra ranges from 10 cm to slightly above 50 cm [3]. Areas with significant soil thickness can reach about 70 cm, which is still too thin to allow for the development of a reliable plant root system.

Thin soil implies that soil organic activity is less in tundras than forests, and so is biodegradation rate. This allows organic remains to disintegrate slowly, and increases soil carbon sequestration effectiveness.

Tundra Characteristics: Thin Humus Soil with Permafrost (Credit: Boris Radosavljevic 2012 .CC BY 2.0.)
Tundra Characteristics: Thin Humus Soil with Permafrost (Credit: Boris Radosavljevic 2012 .CC BY 2.0.)






4). Low Precipitation

Tundras have low precipitation because of multiple factors that include low temperature, low air pressure, low organic productivity and high altitude that reduces the amount of moist air and condensation occurring in this biome.

Low precipitation makes the tundra similar to areas experiencing desertification.

Precipitation in the tundra ranges from 15 to 25 cm per annum [4].

Arctic precipitation is slightly more than alpine in most cases, so that it may reach up to 38 cm. This is due to the higher altitude of alpine tundra, that further reduces air humidity.

Much of the available water in the tundra is in the frozen, solid state, and this contributes to the dryness of the biome.

Many other tundra characteristics are linked to low precipitation, including low biodiversity, sparse vegetation and cold climatic conditions.






5). Sparsity of Perennial Vegetation (as one of the Tundra Characteristics)

There is limited vegetation in the tundra, especially when compared to other ecosystems like forests.

Tundra vegetation is sparse due to three main factors; low temperature, low precipitation and thin soil.

The vegetation of the tundra is dominated by plant species that have low transpiration rates, low water uptake, shallow root system, and which are adapted to the cold conditions.

Two types of tundra vegetation are; moss-lichen-sedge and grass-shrub vegetations, which are classified in zonal clusters based on shared geographic and biologic attributes [6].

Moss-lichen-sedge vegetation is more common in the alpine tundra, while grass-shrub vegetation is more common in the arctic tundra.

Perennial vegetation like trees and large shrubs are especially sparse in tundras, because their demands in terms of root anchorage, water, nutrients and temperature, cannot be met sufficiently under tundra climatic conditions.







The main characteristics of the tundra are;

1. Relatively Low Biodiversity

2. Cold Climatic Condition

3. Thin Humus Soil with Permafrost

4. Low Precipitation

5. Sparsity of Perennial Vegetation







1). Balasubramanian, A. (2013). "THE TUNDRA BIOME." Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314211666_THE_TUNDRA_BIOME. (Accessed 14 February 2023).

2). Diaz, H. F.; Eischeid, J. K. (2007). "Disappearing 'alpine tundra,'Köppen climatic type in the western United States." Geophysical Research Letters 34(18). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL031253. (Accessed 14 February 2023).

3). Freppaz, M.; Filippa, G.; Caimi, A.; Buffa, G.; Zanini, E. (2011). "Soil and plant characteristics in the alpine tundra (NW Italy)." Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288095577_Soil_and_plant_characteristics_in_the_alpine_tundra_NW_Italy. (Accessed 14 February 2023).

4). Long, K. (2019). "Does the Tundra Have Rain?" Available at: https://sciencing.com/tundra-rain-5006.html. (Accessed 14 February 2023).

5). Migala, K.; Wojtuń, B.; Szymański, W.; Muskała, P. (2014). "Soil moisture and temperature variation under different types of tundra vegetation during the growing season: A case study from the Fuglebekken catchment, SW Spitsbergen." Catena 116:10–18. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.catena.2013.12.007. (Accessed 14 February 2023).

6). Strelkov, S.A. (1968). "Tundra landscape." In: Geomorphology. Encyclopedia of Earth Science. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/3-540-31060-6_389. (Accessed 14 February 2023).

7). Wang, L.; Wu, Z.; Du, H.; Zong, S.; Ma, S. (2019). "Potential Distribution Shifts of Plant Species under Climate Change in Changbai Mountains, China." Forests 10(6):498. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/f10060498. (Accessed 14 February 2023).

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