Research Paper On Climate Change And Species Of The Tundra
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Tundra comes from the Finnish word ‘tunturia’, which means a barren land. It is the coldest and driest biome on Earth; the vast and treeless land covers about 20 % of the earth’s surface and is located in the Northern Hemisphere. The annual average annual temperatures ranges from -40°F in the winter to 65°F in the summer and winter temperature is below freezing (32°F) for the majority of the year. The summer growing season is just 50 to 60 days, when the sun shines 24 hours a day, and for this reason the Arctic is called the Land of Midnight Sun.
Tundra is also a very windy place, winds blowing at a speed of 30 to 60 miles per hour. Tundra is also known as the cold desert as it is dry as any desert with extreme precipitation of 6 to 10 inches of rain or snow per year.
Global Warming and Human Interference Threat to Tundra
Tundra is considered to be amongst the most sensitive habitats in the world as it is facing the threat of Global warming, the thawing of the permafrost (a subsoil that remains frozen throughout the year) due to climatic change is disturbing the ecological balance in the tundra and hence endangering the species that live on it.
Global warming and much other human interference are believed to be responsible for these threats in the tundra. Some of them are listed below:-
Too much of release of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to burning of the fossil fuels like oil and coal is resulting in the unusual rise in the temperature.
Tundra, also known as carbon dioxide sink, does not let plants die and decompose due to its ice cold temperature; as a result the carbon dioxide (green house gas) instead of being released in the atmosphere gets absorbed in the tundra permafrost. Global warming in turn is causing this permafrost to thaw and in turn release the absorbed carbon dioxide, thus increasing the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, hence contributing to global warming.
Thawing permafrost in the Arctic has also damaged houses, roads, airports and pipelines, and caused landscape erosion, slope instability, and landslides.
Increase in temperature is resulting in the sea ice decline throughout the Arctic. Sea ice is frozen seawater floating on the surface of the ocean. Loss of sea ice means more heat is absorbed as snow covered sea ice reflects around 85 % of sunlight.
Melting sea ice affects populations of marine mammals, caribou, polar bears, seals and the subsistence livelihoods of people that depend on them.
Sea ice forms a natural breakwater against storm wave action; ice melting allows larger storm surges to develop and causes erosion, sedimentation, and coastal inundation. It also causes sea level to rise resulting in floods and damage in the nearby costal habitat
Pollution from mining and drilling for oil has polluted the air, lakes and rivers. Oil spills can kill wildlife and significantly damage tundra ecosystems. Report states that the land around some nickel mines in Russia has become so polluted that the plants in the surrounding area have died (Whitney S 2002).
Air pollution also causes smog clouds that contaminate lichen, a significant food source for many animals
Construction of pipelines and roads can cause the physical disturbances and habitat fragmentation.
Greenhouse gases like chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and Hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) is causing the ozone layer depletion and increasing the levels of ultraviolet radiation.
Climate warming and insect infestations make forests more susceptible to forest fire. Reports have stated that, since 1970, the acreage subjected to fire has increased steadily from 2.5 million to more than 7 million acres per year. A single fire in 1996 burned 37,000 acres of forest and peat, causing $80 million in direct losses and destroying 450 structures, including 200 homes. The increase in forest fires also harms local wildlife, such as caribou.
Invasive species push aside native vegetation and reduce diversity of plant cover.
Understanding of three heavily altered communities in detail
(Predator – Polar Bear, Prey – Ring Seal, Plant – Lichens)
PREDATOR – POLAR BEAR
The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is also known as ‘maritime bear’. Polar bears are carnivorous in nature and survive in the Arctic Circle, encompassing the Arctic Ocean. It is a large bear, approximately the same size as the omnivorous Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi). An adult male bear weighs around 351 to 544 kgs and an adult female bear is about 149 to 295 kgs. Although most polar bears are born on land, they spend most of their time at sea.
Adaptation. The body characteristics like white yellow fur, catlike claws, heavily furred feet, smaller ears, narrower and elongated skull, all aid in combating the extreme cold and grasping the prey. The ability to fast for a very long time at anytime of the year is one of the very important adaptations for cold temperature.
Diet and feeding strategy. Polar bears are carnivorous in their food habit, and two species of seals make up the bulk of their diet: the ringed seal and the larger bearded seal. Both of these seals rely on sea ice to reproduce and molt, and neither species is found where sea ice is absent. More importantly, during the spring and early summer, polar bears gorge themselves on naïve newborn and recently weaned seal pups and deposit a thick fat layer that allows the bears to go through extended periods without food. Seals are an abundant food source that is converted into a portable energy store. Pregnant female polar bears can fast for up to 7-8 months and rear offspring (usually two) to about 10 kg before returning to the sea ice to feed on seals.
Climate induced changes to the sea ice may result in the seals expanding northward, and making it difficult for the bears to hunt on them due to loss of sea ice platform.
Habitat. Polar bear spend most of their time in sea ice, it provides a platform to live, and hunt, breed, travel, and they use the ice as a stepping stone to move from one to another.
Threat of Global Warming
Melting Of Sea Ice. Global warming is melting the sea ice, reducing its ice thickness causing wind and water currents to easily drift it apart. This situation makes it difficult for the polar bears to walk against ice flow to remain in contact with their preferred habitat and as a result the bears have to travel and use a lot of energy in the process which in turn affects their growth and reproduction. Also reports have stated that long water gaps due to drifting of sea ice have resulted in drowning of many polar bears.
Pregnant females build their winter dens in areas with thick snow cover on land or on sea ice. When the females emerge from their dens with their cubs in spring, the mothers have not eaten for five to seven months. Due to global warming later formation of sea ice in autumn and earlier break-up in spring means a longer period of annual fasting for female polar bears, and their reproductive success is tightly linked to their fat stores. Females in poor condition have smaller litters and smaller cubs that are less likely to survive. Also, earlier spring break-up of ice could separate their dens from spring feeding areas, and young cubs could drown as they cannot swim long distances.
Water Pollution. As global warming progresses, wind and water currents carry pollutants from different parts of the world and concentrate them in the polar caps. As the cap melts the environment is affected by toxic pollutants like “Organochlorinated compounds” or “Persistent Organic pollutants” these can Biomagnifying up the food chain.
Polar bears, at the top of the marine food chain, accumulate contaminants in their fat by eating ringed seals and other marine mammals that have absorbed the chemicals by eating contaminated species lower on the food chain. High levels of chlorinated compounds and heavy metals have been found in polar bears.
These pollutants can result to low fertility, immune deficiency, disruptions to the endocrine system, genetic mutation and malformation. These can even endanger the survival of some polar species
PREY - RINGED SEALS
The ringed seal (Pusa hispida or Phoca hispida), is an earless seal (family: Phocidae) inhabiting the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. The ringed seal is a relatively small seal, rarely greater than 1.5 m in length, with a distinctive patterning of dark spots surrounded by light grey rings, whence its common name. It is the most abundant and wide-ranging ice seal in the northern hemisphere. This species is usually considered the smallest species in the true seal family. They are solitary animals and when hauled out on ice separate themselves from each other by hundreds of yards.
Habitat. Seals reside in arctic waters and are commonly associated with ice floes and pack ice. The ringed seal maintains a breathing hole in the ice thus allowing it to use ice habitat that other seals cannot
Food Diet. Ringed seals eat a wide variety of small prey that consists of 72 species of fish and invertebrates. Feeding is usually a solitary behavior and their prey of choice includes mysids, shrimp, arctic cod, and herring. While feeding, ringed seals dive to depths of 35 to 150 ft (10–45 m). In the summer, ringed seals feed along edge of the sea-ice for polar cod. In shallow water they feed on smaller cod. Ringed seals may also eat herring, smelt, whitefish, sculpin, perch, and crustaceans.
Threats of Global Warming
Melting of sea ice. Ice-dependent seals, including the ringed seal, ribbon seal, and bearded seal, are particularly vulnerable to the observed and projected reductions in arctic sea ice because they give birth to and nurse their pups on the ice and use it as a resting platform. They also forage near the ice edge and under the ice. Ringed seals are likely to be the most highly affected species of seal because all aspects of their lives are tied to sea ice. They require sufficient snow cover to construct lairs and the sea ice must be stable enough in the spring to successfully rear young. Earlier ice break-up could result in premature separation of mothers and pups, leading to higher death rates among newborns.
Unlike these ice-associated seal species, harbour seals and grey seals are more temperate species with sufficiently broad niches that they are likely to expand their ranges in an Arctic that has less ice coverage.
Without access to sea ice, ringed seals are unable to sustain life, which further affects trophic levels both above and below. Ringed seals are both predators and prey. A predator to zooplankton and fish, the ringed seal is considered a primary consumer as well as a secondary consumer. But the tertiary consumer, or top predator, in the Arctic is the polar bear, feeding mostly on seals, including the ringed seal
Oil and Gas Exploration. There is concern however that oil and gas exploration and extraction in many parts of their respective ranges, particularly in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, may cause disturbance as well as possible pollution of the seals, their habitat and food supply.
Water Pollutants. Rising pollutant levels in ringed seals, even in the more northerly locations, have also recently been reported, indicative of a general rise in pollution of the marine environment on a global scale. These pollutants cause pathological impairments including disturbances, which have resulted in a depressed reproductive capacity.
Reports state that Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry reported in December 1998 that leaking radioactive waste in the country's Arctic seas is resulting in excessive radiation levels, reaching 100 times normal levels in some places thus jeopardizing the marine life.
Global warming is making it hard for the ringed seal to live a normal life. They depend on the ice floes for protection, to raise young, and to rest. If they can no longer depend on the ice, their young pups will end up dying off, causing the population to decrease even more. The ringed seal is the main food source for the polar bear, and if the ringed seal keeps moving further north, they will become easier prey to the polar bear, thus making the population decrease more. (Smol 2009).
PLANT - LICHENS
Lichens are composed of two different species, but they function as one. They consist of a fungus and algae, living together in a symbiotic relationship where the fungus is the dominant organism. The algae are either green algae or blue-green algae, known as cyan bacteria.
The algae produce carbohydrates through photosynthesis which serve as food for the fungus, while the fungus physically protects the algae and provides it with moisture. Lichens support the ecosystem by contributing to soil formation and nitrogen fixation.
Habitats. There are an estimated 13,500 to 17,000 species of lichens, extending from the tropics to the polar regions. Some of them grow on the bark of temperate trees or as epiphytes on the leaves of trees in tropical rain forests. Some other types of lichen grow abundantly on tundra soils, providing a vital winter food source for animals (including reindeer and caribou) in arctic and sub-arctic regions.
Threats of global warming
Climate warming. The reliance of lichens on atmospheric moisture and nutrients, and their slow growth, make them vulnerable to the disturbance and environmental changes driven by climate warming and drying. Continued climate warming is expected to have a direct impact on lichens in Arctic and sub Arctic plant communities.
Air Pollution. Air pollution can cause smog clouds that contaminate lichen, a significant food source for many animals.
Forest Fire. Lichens are all readily killed by forest fires and their recovery is extremely slow, it may take a burned lichen area as much as 25 years to come back.
Lichens constitute the primary winter forage for large, migratory caribou and reindeer herds, which in turn are a critical subsistence resource for rural residents in Alaska. Thus, declines in these lichens are a major concern for rural people who harvest caribou and reindeer for subsistence.
Hence the above all factors can cause a large impact on the ecosystem of the tundra as far as lichens are concerned.
The main reason of Global Warming is the release of Greenhouse Gas into the atmosphere which in turn results in melting of the sea ice and hence affecting the biodiversity and ecosystem of the tundra and also the global world around. A lot of steps taken in a simple and individual way can curb this act to some extent and make us happy contributors, some of them are cited below.
The energy used to power, heat, and cool our homes, businesses, and industries is the single largest contributor to global warming. We can curb this by using energy efficiency technologies available in the market.
The transportation sectors emissions have increased at a faster rate than any other energy-using sector over the past decade. A variety of solutions are at hand, including improving efficiency (miles per gallon) in all modes of transport, switching to low-carbon fuels, and reducing vehicle miles traveled through smart growth and more efficient mass transportation systems.
Using the potential of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and bio energy to meet the vast majority of our energy needs. Hence, combating pollution.
Reducing our use of fossil fuels, especially carbon-intensive coal
We can fight global warming by reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and by making our food production practices more sustainable
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Marie-Luise Blue. sysonym. What Two Roles Do Lichens Play in an Ecosystem? (Demand Media). Web. 4 April 2015. <http://classroom.synonym.com/>.
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