Alpine Tundra Ecosystem

The Alpine Tundra Ecosystem is a region of extremes. Strong wind, cold temperatures, poor soil, extended snow cover and a short growing season limit what plants can grow here. Many flowering plants of the tundra have dense hairs on stems and leaves for wind protection, or red-colored pigments that convert sunlight into heat.

Some plants take two or more years to form flower buds, which survive winter below the surface. These buds will open and produce fruit with seeds all within just a few weeks of summer.

Lichens are comprised of two organisms: a fungus that provides structure, and an algae within the fungus that stores water and gives it color. Lichens need only a rock, sunlight, and some water every few years to survive.

Enclosed algal cells can photosynthesize above 32 F, and the outer fungal layers can absorb more than their own weight in water.

A 1" diameter lichen may be hundreds of years old; some lichens can live for thousands of years. Lichens help turn rock into soil by secreting acids that dissolve it into minerals.

Cushion and mat plants help build soil by capturing organic debris in their foliage, plots in which grasses and taller plants can eventually root. This turns fellfield into alpine turf, a process that can take centuries.

Alpine vegetation is very fragile, and can take centuries to recover from a disturbance.