What Are Tundra Tops?

Tundra is a biome -- or ecosystem -- found in the Arctic, the Antarctic and at the top of mountains. The word tundra comes from the Kildin Sami word “tundar," which means “treeless mountain tract” or “uplands.” Vegetation in alpine tundra areas is made of grasses, mosses, lichens, shrubs and sedges. No trees grow because of the high altitude.

  1. Location

    • Alpine tundra is found throughout the world -- all mountains over 10,000 feet high have tundra tops. The alpine biome is actually not at the top of the mountain, but just below the snow line. Some of the more famous ranges that have tundra are the Himalayan Mountains, the Andes Mountains and the Rocky Mountains.


    • Nighttime temperatures at high altitudes where alpine tundra occur are usually below freezing. Daytime temperatures range from 10- to 15-degrees Celsius in the summer. Winter temperatures usually last from October to May, and summer temperatures are common between June and September. Wind speed may exceed 170 miles per hour -- these facts all add up to a very inhospitable climate. The typical description of an alpine tundra is usually “cold, snowy, and windy” -- even in the summer. Temperatures can vary drastically from day to day, and no temperature is guaranteed.


    • Because of the temperatures, there are no cold-blooded animals that live in tundra areas. Instead, tundra tops are populated by warm-blooded animals and insects. The animals that do live in the alpine tundra areas are well-adapted to these conditions. They are animals such as elk, mountain goats, marmots, pikas, sheep, grouse-like birds, beetles, butterflies, springtails, and grasshoppers.


    • There are only about 200 species of plants in the alpine tundra region. Because there is little carbon dioxide at this altitude -- which plants need for photosynthesis -- many plants cannot thrive. Small or ground-hugging plants tend to do better than taller shrubs or trees. Additionally, most alpine soil is sandy or rocky, which is not favorable for many types of plants. Some plants that do well in alpine tundra conditions are bear grass, wild potato, bristlecone pine, moss campion, pygmy bitterroot and alpine phacelia

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