Tundra is a region found in the coldest places on earth. They are of two types: the arctic tundra and the alpine tundra. The Alpine tundra is located on high mountain regions in the world, for instance, the Swiss Alps. As opposed to the Arctic Tundra, the Alpine Tundra are found away from the pole regions. The word ‘Alpine’ is derived from the Alps which are high mountains that are found in Central Europe.
The characteristic of the Alpine is similar to polar tundra in that it has no trees, has annual temperatures that are recorded to be very low, and most animals migrate to these regions only during the productive summer periods. However, the alpine tundra has more precipitation and higher annual average temperatures than the polar tundra. The Alpine tundra is important because of the value of its biodiversity – it can be used for setting up undisturbed monitoring stations, can be used for recreational and leisure activities, and in the generation of mineral wealth. This article seeks to provide more detailed information on the location, climate, plants and animals of this biome.
Location of Alpine Tundra Biome
The alpine tundra regions are located at any latitude in a high altitude area including some ecoregions having montane grasslands and shrublands. There are regions having the large sections of the alpine tundra biome.
These are the Scottish Highland, The Himalayas, the Alps, The Rift Mountains of Africa, Tibetan Plateau, The Caucasus Mountains, the American Cordillera in both North regions and South American regions, and the Pyrenees and Carpathian Mountains found in Europe region.
2. Location on the mountain
High mountain summits, ridges and slopes found above the timberline are places where the Alpine Tundra is found. Treeline can occur at higher altitude areas on regions that are warmer such as slopes that are facing the equator. Meanwhile, the landscape of the region where they are located may be rocky, snowcapped mountain peaks, talus slopes, cliffs and in some cases flat topography with a gentle slope.
The Alpine Tundra traverses through many locations including across microclimates. The treeline in the region is estimated to rise 75 meters 1° South from the latitude 70° to 50° North. They are also estimated to rise 130 meters per 1° from 50° to 30° North and around 20° South. In regions between 3,500 meters and 4,000 meters, the treelines are found to be roughly constant.
4. Geographical distribution
The distribution of the Alpine tundra is as a result of high altitude, high latitude, low temperatures that are below 25°F. The low temperatures are important in maintaining the biome due to the fact that no trees can grow in the region.
The other factor that determines the distribution of this biome is the water availability. The regions where the Alpine are found plants lack water which would have been essential for plant growth. The snow which is permanently frozen does not provide any significant amount of water even during the summer period.
Average annual temperatures in the Alpine biome regions is similar to that of the Polar Regions. The mean temperatures recorded at an altitude of 12,300 feet in July is 48°F. The average temperatures that have been recorded in the months of January and December are around 9°F at the same altitude.
This shows that the variation of temperature in the Alpine regions is less extreme as seen in Arctic regions (Polar regions). The variations in temperatures in this regions depend on latitude. Alpine tundra regions in high altitude areas that are close to the arctic regions have almost the same annual temperature variations as those recorded in arctic tundra.
The sites found closer to the earth’s equator, for instance, Mt. Kilimanjaro located in Tanzania and the Ruwenzori Mountain in Uganda record little annual temperature variations. However, the areas have extreme daily temperature variations. For instance, in Mount Kenya at a height of 13,800 feet, the temperature during the day may rise to 60° F and in the same day may fall to 23° F. This type of variation can pose danger to the crops that grow in this area.
Alpine regions experience high wind speeds that result in removal of the air that is close to the ground. The air removed is warm and is absorbed by the vegetation that might be present. The removal of the warm air exposes the vegetation and soil to extremely cold temperatures. Also, the wind tends to carry with them the ice crystal that is destructive especially to sprouting plants around the region.
The direction of the wind is predicted depending on the pattern of the vegetation found around the Alpine biome borders. For instance, in Sierra Nevada, California, the tundra vegetation is found at the lower elevations on the side facing the Pacific Ocean (western side) than the east side. On the west side, the subalpine limit is around 10,500 feet and on the protected side is approximated to be at a height of 11,800 feet.
In Alpine regions, the air moving from the lowland or ocean regions is pushed up the mountain by the strong winds where it gets cooled as it moves up. Cooled air has low water holding capacity, therefore, as this air rises its ability to hold water is reduced and the water content condenses to form clouds. The cloud may then precipitate in form of rain droplets.
However, if the temperatures are extremely low, it falls in form of snow. As a rule, the side that is facing the strong winds usually receives high levels of precipitation while the sides that are sheltered away from the windy side get the lowest. Precipitation in Alpine biome increases with increase in altitude. For instance in Boulder, Colorado, the annual precipitation is 395 mm at 5,250 feet while at 8,460 feet the annual average precipitation is around 540 mm.
4. Low air pressure
The alpine biome is characterized by low air pressure and as a result, there are low amounts of oxygen. For instance, at altitudes above 18,000 feet, the amount of oxygen found in the region is only half of that found in regions located at sea level. Therefore, many animals such as the ibex and sheep cannot survive in such regions. However, animals such as birds and some cold-blooded invertebrates can survive even in higher altitudes.
1. Vegetation depending on altitude
The vegetation zones found in the Alpine are arranged depending on altitude rather than the latitude. The vegetation in this biome stretch from Timberline at its base to the bare mountain peaks that has glacier or snow. The Timberline is not continuous and has a ragged mixture of dwarf and twisted plants that manage to grow in this extremely harsh conditions. In valleys that have shelter, the trees may mature more than those located in bare grounds.
2. Vegetation determined by soil
In some areas, the altitude does not determine the type of vegetation present. Areas such as the Southern Appalachian Mountains, Montana, have grassy “balds” due to shallow soils that cannot support tree growth in this regions. Also, the cold associated with this regions also play a major role in determining the type of crop that grows in the biome.
3. Vegetation Zones
Mt, Kenya in East Africa has different vegetation zones that are found at different heights. The regions close to the equator have tropical savannah vegetation and forest. As the height increases the vegetation change and gives way to a temperate forest that is made up of bamboo. The bamboo forest gives way to the shrub zone. The Alpine Tundra biome is located at heights above 12,000 feet. And above these regions is the permanent snow.
As stated earlier, the Alpine tundra is located in many different regions around the world and at these regions have different climatic and microclimatic patterns. Thus, there are no common and specific animals that are associated with the Alpine biome. Nonetheless, there are a few animals that prefer in living in this regions such as birds that migrate from different regions, invertebrates and mammals.
There are a significant number of animals that live in the Alpine tundra regions despite the harsh conditions. The invertebrates have the disadvantages of being cold-blooded as their temperatures are determined by the surrounding environment. Their activities are limited especially during extremely cold temperatures as experienced in winter. These animals have to adapt by feeding on insects and a few plants that are available in the region. Examples of invertebrates living in the region are the springtails, a group of delicious mammals.
The availability of insects and berries have made the biome to be a region of migration of birds during summers in areas located near the poles. Birds that do not feed on seafood search for food on the mountainous tundra.
There are different types of mammals that traverse the alpine tundra region in search of food. Some of the animals that are associated with the Alpine Tundra regions are the Mountain goat, Kea, sheep, yak, pika, marmot, chinchilla and bighorn sheep.