Tundra Fauna

Tundra Fauna


the aggregate of animal species inhabiting the tundra. There are relatively few species in the tundra because of the severe conditions and the youth of the fauna on the evolutionary scale.

Characteristic of the tundra is the presence of endemics, some of which belong to independent genera. In addition, there is a certain homogeneity owing to the circumpolar distribution of the majority of species. The lives of many tundra animals are associated with the sea (for example, birds that live in colonies near the sea, the polar bear, a number of pinnipeds). Most vertebrates leave the tundra for the winter; only a few, for example, lemmings, remain active under the snow. The permafrost and the swampiness associated with it do not favor the existence of hibernating forms and burrowers.

Insectivores are represented only by shrews. Rodents include endemic species of true and collared lemmings; in southern parts of the tundra there are several vole species (for example, the root vole, Middendorff’s vole, the northern redbacked vole, and the large-toothed redbacked vole). Lagomorphs are represented by the blue hare. Carnivores include the almost endemic arctic fox, which migrates for the winter to the forest tundra and, to a lesser extent, to the northern taiga. Ermines and weasels are widespread, and true foxes and wolves are also encountered. The polar bear enters the tundra from the north, and the Asiatic brown bear from the south. Ungulates include the endemic musk ox and the reindeer.

The birds of the tundra fauna are represented by a few species of passerines (especially granivorous ones) and an abundance of Limicolae and swimming birds, of which the white-fronted goose, the brant goose, and the bean goose are especially numerous. Endemic birds are the snow goose, the snowy owl, the snow bunting, the Lapland longspur, and the rough-legged buzzard. The peregrine falcon is characteristic of the tundra, as are the willow grouse (inhabiting the taiga), the alpine ptarmigan (found in the mountains), and the shore lark (found not only in the tundra but also in treeless high-elevation regions and steppes).

Reptiles are absent. The only amphibians are a few frogs that enter the tundra from the south. The most common fishes are of the family Salmonidae; in Chukchi and Alaska blackfish are found. Among insects dipterans predominate, with mosquitoes being especially abundant. Also relatively numerous are hyme-nopterans (especially sawflies and bumblebees—distribution of the latter is associated with leguminous plants), beetles, spring-tails, and butterflies.

The meagerness of tundra fauna is illustrated by the small number of mammal species. For example, in Taimyr there are ten or 11, in Greenland seven, and on the arctic islands two to four. Tundra fauna developed during the glacial period, possibly in the Bering Sea region, and later was supplemented by species that existed in the glacial and periglacial steppes and on the plains of Middle and Central Asia. Evidence of the latter are the resemblance of true lemmings to steppe lemmings, of the American long-tailed suslik to the Asiatic one, and of the tundra’s rough-legged buzzard to the central-Asiatic one.

The only tundra animal that has been domesticated is the reindeer; the American caribou has resisted domestication. The arctic fox, ermine, and weasel are hunted for their fur; many birds that nest in the tundra are hunted commercially, chiefly in flight. Attempts are being made to acclimatize the musk ox in Taimyr and on Vrangel’ Island.


Voronov, A. G. Biogeografiio. Moscow, 1963.
Neill, W. Geografiia zhizni. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from English.)
Syroechkovskii, E. E., and E. V. Rogacheva. Zhivotnyi mir SSSR. Moscow, 1975.


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