Polar & Alpine


T6 Polar-alpine

Polar-alpine biome is comprised these Ecosystem Functional Groups (EFG): Ice sheets, glaciers and perennial snowfields, Polar-alpine rocky outcrops, Polar tundra and deserts, Temperate alpine grasslands and shrublands, Tropical alpine grasslands and shrublands. The Polar-alpine biome encompasses the extensive Arctic and Antarctic regions as well as high mountainous areas across all continental land masses. Primary productivity is low or very low, strictly seasonal and limited by conditions of extreme cold associated with low insolation and/or high elevation, further exacerbated by desiccating conditions and high-velocity winds. Low temperatures limit metabolic activity and define the length of growing seasons. Microbial decomposition is slow, leading to peat accumulation in the most productive ecosystems. Regional and local temperature gradients shape ecosystems within the biome. Standing biomass, for example, is low or very low and varies with the severity of cold and insolation. Microbial lifeforms dominate in the coldest systems with perennial snow or ice cover, augmented with crustose lichens, bryophytes, and algae on periodically exposed lithic substrates. Forbs, grasses and dwarf shrubs with slow growth rates and long lifespans become increasingly prominent and may develop continuous cover with increasing insolation and warmer conditions. This vegetation cover provides habitat structure and food for vertebrate and invertebrate consumers and their predators. Trophic webs are simple or truncated and populations of larger vertebrates are generally migratory or itinerant. In these warmer cryogenic systems, snow cover is seasonal (except at equatorial latitudes) and insulates plants and animals that lie dormant beneath it during winter and during their emergence from dormancy prior to spring thaw. While dormancy is a common trait, a diverse range of other physiological, behavioural, and morphological traits that facilitate cold tolerance are also well represented among the biota.


Tundra and High mountain & Polar Systems biomes.

Tundra biome is comprised of Alpine Tundra, Arctic Tundra, and Other (tundra).

High mountain & Polar Systems biome comprised of High Mountain - forest, High Mountain - grassland, High Mountain - snow and ice, Polar, Other (high mountains and polar)


Not defined as a land cover / ecosystem type.


ESRI Land Cover: “Snow/Ice” and “Bare Ground”

Snow/Ice: Large homogenous areas of permanent snow or ice, typically only in mountain areas or highest latitudes; examples: glaciers, permanent snowpack, snow fields.

Bare Ground: Areas of rock or soil with very sparse to no vegetation for the entire year; large areas of sand and deserts with no to little vegetation; examples: exposed rock or soil, desert and sand dunes, dry salt flats/pans, dried lake beds, mines.

USGS NLCD “Perennial Ice/Snow” and “Barren”

Perennial Ice/Snow are areas characterized by a perennial cover of ice and/or snow, generally greater than 25% of total cover.

Barren Land (Rock/Sand/Clay) are areas of bedrock, desert pavement, scarps, talus, slides, volcanic material, glacial debris, sand dunes, strip mines, gravel pits and other accumulations of earthen material. Generally, vegetation accounts for less than 15% of total cover.

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