The caribou has the distinction of having the largest population of large herbivores. So, what biome do caribou live in? And how do they affect this biome?
The caribou, also known as reindeer, has several effects on the ecosystem and also plays an important part in the sustenance of many humans in those areas. For instance, there are an estimated 3 million domestic reindeer in Northern Europe alone.
While the caribou can be found in all kinds of climates, they are native to the Arctic Tundra and the northern boreal forests of Scandinavia, Russia, and Canada. The tundra is considered the coldest biome of all, which suits these animals.
Caribou are important in their ecosystem mainly because they help vegetation as well as indigenous people. This is why it is important to learn more about these animals and the biome they thrive in.
With years of experience studying the various biomes found on earth, we can help you learn more about the Arctic Tundra biome and the caribou that live there.
The Arctic Tundra Biome
The tundra is considered the coldest biome that you'll find on earth. The name tundra is a derivation of a Finnish word – tunturi. This basically translates to "treeless plain." Frost-molded landscapes, low temperatures, limited precipitation, insufficient nutrients, and short growing seasons are all features of this region. A nutrient pool is formed by dead organic material where nitrogen and phosphorus are the two most important nutrients. Biological fixation produces nitrogen, whereas precipitation produces phosphorus.
Tundra grows in two types of climates: cold and dry. Arctic tundra can be found on high-latitude land masses above the Arctic Circle—for example, in Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, and Russia—or in the extreme south, such as Antarctica. Alpine tundra is found at extremely high elevations atop mountains, where temperatures drop below freezing at night.
Permafrost is a layer of permanently frozen subsoil made up largely of gravel and finer particles. Bogs and ponds can occur when water saturates the upper surface, giving moisture to the plants present there. Although the flora of the arctic tundra lacks extensive root systems, it nonetheless has a diverse range of species that can withstand the cold.
The biome of the arctic tundra is the furthest north. It encompasses all of the territory north of the Arctic Circle, all the way to the polar ice cap. It stretches as far south as Canada's Hudson Bay region and as far north as Iceland's northern section. It has a surface area of around 11.5 million km2. Alpine tundra may be found on mountains, and Antarctic tundra can be found on Antarctica and the adjacent Antarctic islands.
The depth to which plant roots can extend into the earth is limited by permafrost. It's also the reason why trees don't grow. The ground of the polar tundra is typically rocky, with little nutrients in the soil. This is because plant breakdown rates are often low. This biome is considered a major carbon sink despite the lack of trees because peat and humus deposits contain huge amounts of organic matter. Peat is sphagnum moss that has decomposed, while humus is organic stuff.
Arctic Tundra Biome Climate
The northern hemisphere's arctic tundra encircles the North Pole and extends south to the taiga's coniferous woods. The arctic is notorious for its freezing temperatures and desert-like characteristics. The growing season is 50 to 60 days long. The typical winter temperature is -34° C, whereas the average summer temperature is from 3-12° C, allowing this biome to thrive. The amount of rain that falls in different parts of the Arctic varies. The annual precipitation ranges from around 5 inches, including melting snow, up to 10 inches. Soil takes a long time to develop.
Arctic Tundra Biome Plants
The Arctic tundra is home to hundreds of plant species. Plants are often tiny and near to the ground. This shields them from harsh winds and freezing temperatures. Lichen, small shrubs, birch, and willow trees are some of the flora species that flourish on the tundra. Cushion plants, which also occur on the tundra, are low-growing plants that thrive in confined spaces. Cushion plants get their name from their soft, cushiony texture.
Arctic Tundra Biome Animals
Tundra animals must be able to withstand extremely cold temperatures. They must also be able to rear their young throughout the summer months, which are quite short. The ox, Arctic hare, polar bear, Arctic fox, caribou, and snowy owl are among the animals that live on the tundra. Many arctic creatures, such as the caribou and the plover, travel to warmer regions during the winter. The arctic ground squirrel, for example, hibernates throughout the winter months. Because of the extreme cold, there are extremely few amphibians and reptiles on the tundra.
The muskox is a tundra mammal known for its powerful odor generated by males of the species during the seasonal rut. During the mating season, the odor helps men attract females. Muskox have thick coats that protect them from the cold in their natural environment. These animals may be found in the Canadian Arctic as well as Greenland. The musk ox has minor invasive populations in Siberia and Alaska.
The Arctic hare lives in the world's tundra areas, where it has adapted to hilly and polar environments. The Arctic hare's short ears and limbs, thick fur, and tiny snout aid to save body heat. The Arctic hare's body fat accounts for 20% of its total weight. They live in burrows dug into the earth, roam in groups or alone, and can run at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour.
The different subspecies of the Rangifer tarandus are known as caribou or reindeer. Caribou may be found throughout Alaska and northern Canada, including Yukon, Canadian Rockies, and the Columbia Mountains. The tundra ecoregion of northern Europe and Siberia is home to reindeer, the Eurasian term for caribou. Caribou and reindeer can be found in both the wild and semi-domesticated herds. The inhabitants of the arctic areas use these animals for milk, meat, hides, and transportation.
The caribou were the first domesticated animals in Norway and northern Asia. They were used to pull sleds and produce milk, meat, and skins for tent construction. They were transported to Alaska in 1887 when it was realized how important they were. They were later transported to other areas of Canada. Caribou is the name given to these North American reindeer. Even though they have distinct names, they are both regarded as the same species.
The caribou is a huge mammal that belongs to the deer family. Both the male and female have antlers, unlike deer. The male's antlers are tall, branching, and huge, with a little flattening at the tips. The female's antlers are substantially shorter, simpler, and slenderer. Male and female caribou are good swimmers.
The caribou is a strong, short-legged mammal. It has a brown coat that darkens during the summer and lightens during the winter. The fur above the hooves and around the tail is virtually white, and it has a ruff of long hairs under the neck. The Alaskan caribou is clove-brown in color, with white on the throat and hindquarters.
Adult bulls weigh 350-400 pounds on average but can reach 700 pounds. The typical weight of mature females is 175-225 pounds. They may be anywhere from 34 and 55 inches tall at the shoulder. They have adapted successfully to life on the tundra. In the winter, their wide, spreading hooves support the animal in the snow, whereas in the summer, they support the animal on marshy tundra.
Caribou are migratory, meaning they move around continually in quest of food. They may travel in large herds of thousands of animals while migrating in the spring. Every year, caribou can migrate thousands of miles.
Despite its distant location, the tundra is becoming increasingly endangered as humans encroach on it to develop or pump for oil, for example. Climate change, on the other hand, may pose the biggest threat. Warming temperatures have the potential to destabilize the frigid tundra habitat and its inhabitants, as well as thaw the underlying permafrost, releasing greenhouse gases that will hasten global warming.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker