Terrestrial Biomes

Arctic Tundra

The Arctic tundra lies north of the subarctic boreal forest and is located throughout the Arctic regions of the northern hemisphere (Figure). The average winter temperature is -34 °C (29.2 °F) and the average summer temperature is from 3 °C to 12 °C (37 °F–52 °F). Plants in the arctic tundra have a very short growing season of approximately 10–12 weeks.

However, during this time, there are almost 24 hours of daylight and plant growth is rapid. The annual precipitation of the Arctic tundra is very low with little annual variation in precipitation. And, as in the boreal forests, there is little evaporation due to the cold temperatures.

Plants in the Arctic tundra are generally low to the ground (Figure). There is little species diversity, low net primary productivity, and low above-ground 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 deep into the soil and slows the decay of organic matter, which inhibits the release of nutrients from organic matter. During the growing season, the ground of the Arctic tundra can be completely covered with plants or lichens.

 This photo shows a flat plain covered with shrub. Many of the shrubs are covered in pink flowers.
Low-growing plants such as shrub willow dominate the tundra landscape, shown here in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (credit: USFWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)

Link to Learning

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.