Treeless tundra is found in the north of Russia, generally above the Arctic Circle. In European Russia, it occupies limited space on Kola Peninsula and in the Arkhangelsk and Komi regions along the coast. In Siberia, the most extensive tundra is found on Yamal, Taymyr, and Chukotka Peninsulas. In North America, tundra covers much of Alaska's North Slope, as well as about one-quarter of Canada. The word “tundra” comes from the Saami people and means “treeless.” North of the tundra, the polar desert has virtually no life. Some hardy blue-green algae, and occasional mosses and lichens, are about all that can be found there. Nevertheless, even the northernmost islands of Russia, in Franz Joseph Land, have a flora of 57 flowering plants, 115 lichens, and 102 mosses. Polar bears, seals, and walruses are important mammals of the surrounding seas and ice. A few species of hardy Arctic birds—murres, puffins, gulls, and terns—live on inaccessible cliffs in “bird bazaars.”

Russia: Tundra

In contrast to the polar desert, the tundra has hundreds of species of plants and scores of birds and mammals. Although the precipitation in the tundra is low (usually under 300 mm per year), the evaporation rate is even lower, thus creating familiar soggy summer conditions. Soils are of the “tundra glei” type (“gelisols,” in the U.S. classification), with a pronounced anaerobic zone. Underneath is permafrost, but the top 20–30 cm of soil near the surface can team with life in the summer months. These soils are subject to much frost churning, which pulls organic matter down the profile and brings rock fragments to the surface, creating spectacular patterned grounds.

The most common plants of the tundra are mosses and sedges. Dwarf shrubs, grasses, and forbs become more common in the southern tundra. Eventually, bigger shrubs and even small trees begin to appear as one travels farther south, giving way to forest–tundra. In European Russia this zone is located around the Arctic Circle (66?32'N); in Siberia it begins farther north, at about 70?N. In European Russia the treeline is formed by Scotch pine, spruce, or birch; in Siberia it is mainly larch. Climatically, the treeline corresponds to the point at which the mean July temperature goes above 10?C.

Typical animals of the tundra include Arctic foxes, reindeer, lemmings, gyrfalcons, swans, geese, ducks, various shorebirds, snowy owls, horned larks, redpolls, and buntings. Some are rare or endangered (e.g., Siberian red-breasted geese, Siberian cranes, and rosy gulls). There are many protected areas in the tundra biome: however, most of them are poorly accessible. The biggest three are the Great Arctic Zapovednik on the Taymyr Peninsula, the delta of the Lena River, and Wrangel Island.