One of the most interesting of terrestrial biomes is found in alpine regions of the world. Alpine biomes are found in mountainous regions of the world at altitudes 10,000 feet and higher. These areas have harsh weather conditions with high winds and heavy snows. The life forms that make their homes there have unique adaptations that allow them to survive in these difficult environments.
Alpine biomes are found in mountainous areas of the world such as in central Asia, northern Europe, the northern United States, the western part of South America and the western section of Canada. The alpine biome lies just below the snow line. As you climb from the bottom of a mountain, you cross through many different environments before reaching the alpine biome.
Summers can be very short in the alpine biome. They may last from June to September and offer temperatures only as high as 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. With winters lasting from October to May and may stay below freezing for long periods of time. Temperatures can change from relatively warm to freezing in a single day. With these challenges, organisms must develop survival mechanisms that can adjust quickly and effectively in order to survive.
In the alpine biome, precipitation may reach 12 inches each year. Snow remains on the ground for long periods of time due to the cold temperatures and high winds. Ice may buildup in elevations preventing animals from reaching needed forage.
Plants in the alpine must be specially adapted to the harsh conditions. They are often small and grow close to the ground to withstand the harsh alpine winds. They have adapted to utilize nutrients in the poor soil more efficiently. Decomposing plants do not nourish soil in alpine biomes as they do in warmer, moister regions. Plants must work harder to find the compounds and sunlight they need for photosynthesis. They may utilize moisture differently, due to the fast run-off of rainwater from the mountains.
Animals in alpine biomes must contend with two different problems that are ever-present—harsh temperatures and high UV wavelengths. Animals often hibernate throughout the worse periods in this environment, only awaking when their forage resources are available. They grow thick coats to protect them from freezing temperatures. They have additional fat beneath their skin to insulate them from cold. Often, natural selection adapts them to the climate by shortening their legs, tails and ears to conserve body heat. They also have larger lungs and more hemoglobin in their bodies to withstand the increased pressure and lack of oxygen.
Though a harsh environment, many species develop ways in the alpine biome. These areas show how varied the Earth’s regions are and how plants and animals adapt to fill all areas of the planet.