Photo: Bleached caribou antler on tundra

Tundra plants have developed adaptations that help them thrive in this harsh climate. Their short height makes them less vulnerable to strong tundra winds, and shallow roots allow them to pull moisture from the soil above the permafrost.

Photograph by Michael Melford

Protecting Earth's Tundra Habitats

The tundras that cover a tenth of Earth's land are essentially frozen bogs with little vegetation diversity. But these are among the most sensitive habitats in the world.

The most severe threat is global warming. Many scientists believe global warming caused by greenhouse gases may eliminate Arctic regions, including the tundras there, forever.

Another concern is that about one-third of the world's soil-bound carbon is in tundra permafrost. As this frozen soil thaws, its organic contents begin to decay, releasing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The tundra is also slow to repair itself from physical disturbances, such as vehicular tracks. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by switching to alternative energy uses is key to protecting Earth's tundra habitats.

Threats

  • The melting of the permafrost as a result of global warming could radically change the landscape and what species are able to live there.
  • Ozone depletion at the North and South Poles means stronger ultraviolet rays that will harm the tundra.
  • Air pollution can cause smog clouds that contaminate lichen, a significant food source for many animals.
  • Exploration of oil, gas, and minerals and construction of pipelines and roads can cause physical disturbances and habitat fragmentation.
  • Oil spills can kill wildlife and significantly damage tundra ecosystems.
  • Buildings and roads put heat and pressure on the permafrost, causing it to melt.
  • Invasive species push aside native vegetation and reduce diversity of plant cover.

Solutions

  • Switch to alternative energy uses to minimize human-made global warming.
  • Establish protected areas and park reserves to restrict human influence.
  • Limit road construction, mining activities, and the building of pipelines in tundra habitat.
  • Limit tourism and respect local cultures.

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