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Plants
Animals
Climate

Himalayan Mountains
Andes Mountains
Rocky Mountains
Cold, snowy, windy. When you hear those words they make you think of mountains. The Alpine biome is like winter is to people in New England; snow, high winds, ice, all the typical winter things. In Latin the word for 'high mountain' is 'alpes'. That is where today's word alpine comes from.
Alpine biomes are found in the mountain regions all around the world. They are usually at an altitude of about 10,000 feet or more. The Alpine biome lies just below the snow line of a mountain. As you go up a mountain, you will travel through many biomes. In the North American Rocky Mountains you begin in a desert biome. As you climb you go through a deciduous forest biome, grassland biome, steppe biome, and taiga biome before you reach the cold Alpine biome.
In the summer average temperatures range from 10 to 15° C . In the winter the temperatures are below freezing. The winter season can last from October to May. The summer season may last from June to September. The temperatures in the Alpine biome can also change from warm to freezing in one day.
Because the severe climate of the Alpine biome, plants and animals have developed adaptations to those conditions. There are only about 200 species of Alpine plants. At high altitudes there is very little CO2, which plants need to carry on photosynthesis. Because of the cold and wind, most plants are small perennial groundcover plants which grow and reproduce slowly. They protect themselves from the cold and wind by hugging the ground. Taller plants or trees would soon get blown over and freeze. When plants die they don't decompose very quickly because of the cold. This makes for poor soil conditions. Most Alpine plants can grow in sandy and rocky soil. Plants have also adapted to the dry conditions of the Alpine biome. Plant books and catalogs warn you about over watering Alpine plants.
Alpine animals have to deal with two types of problems: the cold and too much high UV wavelengths. This is because there is less atmosphere to filter UV rays from the sun. There are only warm blooded animals in the Alpine biome, although there are insects. Alpine animals adapt to the cold by hibernating, migrating to lower, warmer areas, or insulating their bodies with layers of fat. Animals will also tend to have shorter legs, tails, and ears, in order to reduce heat loss. Alpine animals also have larger lungs, more blood cells and hemoglobin because of the increase of pressure and lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. This is also true for people who have lived on mountains for a long time, like the Indians of the Andes Mountains in South America and the Sherpas of the Himalayas in Asia.

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Climate:

Alpine biomes by their nature do not fit into a simple climatic scheme. In general, as one ascends a mountain, temperature drops by about 10� C for every 1000 meters in altitude gained (a suspiciously round number!). This means that if you start at sea level at 30� C and go up 1,000 meters the temperature will be 20� C; at the top of a 3,000 meter mountain the temperature will be 0� C. This the only thing you can say about the climate in alpine regions is that it is colder than one would expect at sea level at the same latitude. Rainfall also varies considerably; as the rising air cools it loses the ability to retain moisture and clouds form, with the result of increasing precipitation on the side of a mountain exposed to winds. On the other side, the descending air (already dried by its trip over the mountains) warms and removes moisture from the ground - this is one of the driving forces behind the deserts in the American Southwest.
In these web pages the alpine "biome" will be considered to be the upper altitudes of mountains, where cooler climates give rise to communities which resemble (but do not duplicate) the taiga, tundra and ice biomes.

World Distribution:

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As you can see on the map above, alpine conditions are found in the great mountain ranges of the world. The map above is somewhat parochial as the author is more familiar with the mountains in the American west than in other parts of the world. Still, the global mountain ranges that are parts of the alpine biome include the Rockies, Sierra, and Cascade mountains in North America, the Andes in South America, the Himalayas in Asia, the Alps and Pyrenees in Europe, and the Rift Mountains of Africa. There are other mountain regions to be sure, but they are not shown on the map above either because they are too small to show up at this resolution, are too low to support tundra or ice conditions, or occur so far north that they are effectively subsumed into the rock and ice or tundra biomes. You might want to explore mountain ranges further at this site:
http://www.peakware.com/

Most of the mountain ranges are associated, of course, with plate tectonics.

Indicator Plant Species:

Coniferous Forest, Yosemite National Park
Coniferous Forest, Yosemite National Park

Coniferous Forest, Yosemite National Park
Flowers, Mt. St. Helens, Washington
Flowers, Mt. St. Helens, Washington

Flowers, Mt. St. Helens, Washington
As one moves up a mountain, the first indication one has that you are entering an alpine area is the appearance of coniferous trees. Able to shed snow easily, and retaining photosynthetic needles that are able to start photosynthesis quickly as soon as the temperature exceeds the freezing point, conifers such as firs and pines (right) are ideally adapted for cool environments.
Further up the mountain a tree line occurs; above this point climactic conditions are too harsh for trees to grow, and a tundra-like plant community develops. Plants here include various wildflowers (below) , mosses, succulents (adapted to the harsh dry conditions that often prevail), and other low-growing plants (below right). Lichens can also be important.
Fir (left) and Pine (right)
Fir (left) and Pine (right)

Fir (left) and Pine (right)
Wildflowers, Mt. Rainier, Washington
Wildflowers, Mt. Rainier, Washington

Wildflowers, Mt. Rainier, Washington
Moss, Yellowstone National Park
Moss, Yellowstone National Park

Moss, Yellowstone National Park

Below: Lichens (left) are important in many alpine areas. At lower levels, they may grow extensively on trees and even function as a food source in the winter. The snowflower, below right, is very interesting. It is saprophytic. It has no above-ground structures except for the flowers. Instead, it has underground roots which feed on decaying roots of trees killed by fires. These flowers appear in areas where a number of trees have been killed by fires. This individual was photographed in Yosemite National Park.


Lichen
Lichen

Lichen
Snowflower
Snowflower

Snowflower

Indicator Animal Species:

Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri, Mt. Rainier
Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri, Mt. Rainier

Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri, Mt. Rainier
Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasi), Mt Rainier
Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasi), Mt Rainier

Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasi), Mt Rainier



Again, many of the animal species one encounters in the mountains are similar to those that would be found in taiga or tundra habitats. Others, however, have specific adaptations to the mountains. Steller's jays (above) and the Chickaree (right) are two species one often encounters in coniferous forests in the western mountains of the United States. external image gtgrouse2.jpg
The hoary marmot, below right, is a montane species as compared to the western golden marmot which is found at lower elevations. A close relative of the groundhog found in the eastern United States, the hoary marmot makes its burrows among the rocky fields at high elevations.
Grouse of various species may also be encountered in the western US mountains, as this ruffed grouse (inset) was in Grand Teton National Park.
Mountain goats, below, have a host of adaptations that allow them to live on the most precarious of cliffs. Chief among those adaptations are special pads on their hooves which are both cushioned (to absorb the shock of jumping from rock to rock) and slip resistant.


Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasi), Mt Rainier
Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasi), Mt Rainier

Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasi), Mt Rainier
Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus), Glacier National Park
Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus), Glacier National Park

Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus), Glacier National Park
Hoary marmot (Marmota caligata), Glacier National Park
Hoary marmot (Marmota caligata), Glacier National Park

Hoary marmot (Marmota caligata), Glacier National Park


Clark's nutcracker Nucifraga columbiana - Mt. Rainier, Washington
Clark's nutcracker Nucifraga columbiana - Mt. Rainier, Washington

Clark's nutcracker Nucifraga columbiana - Mt. Rainier, Washington
Clark's nutcracker is normally found at the higher elevations on the mountains, getting up towards timberline where they feed on the seeds of pines. The long beak is used to remove the seeds from the cones. The seeds are then cached on the ground, much in the same way a squirrel caches nuts. Amazingly, the birds are able to find the seeds through the winter. The Clark of Clark's Nutcracker is also the Clark of Lewis & Clark, William Clark found the species on the famous expedition.

Ecological Notes:

In very high mountains, some species may require physiological adaptations to help them survive. Humans, for instance, will increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of their blood (by increasing the number of red blood cells, among other responses). There are also adaptations for surviving the cold; these are usually similar to the adaptations seen in other species living in cold climates closer to the poles. Mountaintop plants often have adaptations which enable them to survive the very dry conditions that prevail there (water runs off mountaintops quickly, the soil may have little ability to hold water, and the air may be dry with a constant wind). Many high mountains plants are succulents, with water stored in thick leaves; others grow much closer to the ground (as compared to related plants from lower altitudes), this keeps them out of the wind. Flagging; where tree limbs only grow with the prevailing winds, is a oft-seen phenomenon on mountaintops (right).
Mountain areas have been used extensively to support studies of island ecology, in parts because mountains act as islands of habitat in a "sea" of very different habitats. Mountain species are thus very isolated and subject to different ecological pressures.

Threats:

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Ruffed Grouse, Grand Teton National Park
Mountains in general have been fairly safe from most forms of development; indeed, one criticism of the American National Park system is that it protects too much mountain habitat, with lots of nice views but relatively little biomass. Such parks are relatively easy to create because there are few human uses for such areas. In addition, particularly in the west, mountain regions are also deemed worthy of protection because of their value as a watershed; the water from the snowmelt alone makes the mountaintops where the snowpack lies a relatively valuable piece of property.
There are threats, however. One of the photos below shows a ski development; in general ski slopes are a threat to mountain habitats. Airborne pollution, including acid rain, also threatens alpine areas. Acid rain has sterilized many mountain lakes, which often have little buffering capacity. Global warming may be the greatest threat, however. In addition to the loss of snow pack and its vital water, many mountains are refuges for cold-loving species which used to be found at much lower latitudes during periods of glacial expansion. As the glaciers retreated, these species were often forced to move up mountains to find suitable cold habitats. As the Earth warms, they may continue to move upwards, but because of the pointy shape of mountains there is less habitat at the higher altitudes, and once you reach the top of the mountain, where do you go?
flagging
flagging

Flagging - the wind is coming from the right; the trees branches grow to the left.


Tour:

Near Mt. Rainier, Washington
Near Mt. Rainier, Washington

Near Mt. Rainier, Washington
Big Mountain, Montana
Big Mountain, Montana

Big Mountain, Montana
Alpine habitats encompass a wide variety, as seen in these images. Above, a rocky spire has little soil to support tree life; what little soil is formed in freeze-thaw cycles quickly drops off the sheer rock face. In contrast, the gentler slope of the summit of Big Mountain in Montana would probably support trees had they not been cleared for a ski facility.
In Yosemite National Park (right) the granite of Half-Dome sticks out above the coniferous forests, which themselves are patchy on the very rocky ground. Below, a view from a high vantage point in Yosemite shows a more continuous coniferous forest lapping up to the steep (and high) slopes of the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. These high slopes - either because they are too steep; too rocky; or too cold, windswept and dry - exhibit a definite treeline above which no trees grow.
To the right, below, steep slopes of talus (big chunks) and scree (small chunks) line a canyon gouged by glacial action and meltwater. Clearly the elevation here is not the issue for the trees as they are bountiful at the altitude from whence the picture was taken; rather, stability of the slopes may be the factor preventing tree growth.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Near Mt. Rainier, Washington
Near Mt. Rainier, Washington

Near Mt. Rainier, Washington
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park
MacDonald Lake, Glacier National Park
MacDonald Lake, Glacier National Park

MacDonald Lake, Glacier National Park
High mountains (above) may be perpetually covered with snow and ice (and glaciers) throughout the year and thus resemble the arctic. Global warming may be changing this, however, as the glaciers begin to melt and retreat (above left). The mountains in the photo to the left show snow only at the peaks; this picture was taken in June at a time when traditionally the snowline on the mountains was lower.
In the lower left photo wildflowers typical of an alpine tundra Johnston Ridge across from Mt. St. Helens; it would be tempting to conclude that at this altitude such a tundra-like habitat was the norm - until one realized that this ridge was covered by a coniferous forest until the 1980 eruption. As of the time this photo was taken in 2004, the forest had not been able to regenerate.
Below, the Appalachian Mountains rarely peak high enough to show a treeline, but they do bring taiga-like plant and animal species down into lower latitudes than they normally would be seen. During past periods of glaciation, northern species were common much further south - as the glaciers retreated, the northern species moved back north with the glaciers, although some were able to persist at the higher elevations in the mountains.



Wildflowers, Mt. St. Helens
Wildflowers, Mt. St. Helens

Wildflowers, Mt. St. Helens
Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia
Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia

Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia
Aspens
Aspens

Aspens
Above: Aspens are often found in the zone where deciduous trees transition into conifers in the mountains. If you are hiking up a mountain in the west, the sight of aspens is a sign that the coniferous forest will start soon.
Below: A mountain meadow in Glacier National Park. Such open areas may appear for several reasons - fires, avalanches, storms, wetlands, serpentine soils, etc. may all contribute to the development of grassy areas without trees.
Mountain Meadow, Glacier National Park
Mountain Meadow, Glacier National Park

Mountain Meadow, Glacier National Park
Olympic Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Olympic Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Olympic Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Olympic Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Olympic Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Olympic Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
These views show some of the higher peaks in the Olympic Range on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Snow and ice sculpt the high elevations of these relatively young mountains.
Below, snow and ice are still actively sculpting Mt. Rainier, a dormant volcano looming over the city of Seattle.
Olympic Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Olympic Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Olympic Mountains, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Mt. Rainier, Washington
Mt. Rainier, Washington

Mt. Rainier, Washington
Mt. Rainier, Washington
Mt. Rainier, Washington

Mt. Rainier, Washington
Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Mt. Rainier, Washington
Mt. Rainier, Washington

Mt. Rainier, Washington
Rocky Mountains, Montana
Rocky Mountains, Montana

Rocky Mountains, Montana
In these photos one catches a glimpse of the role of snow and ice in the mountains. The aerial view above left is of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. This picture is disturbing as it was taken in early June, 2004, a time when one would expect to see a much greater snow pack. The snow pack, as it gradually melts over the course of the summer, supplies fresh water to the aquatic ecosystems of the mountains - and to the deserts and cities beyond. A thin snow pack will not provide enough water, and a snow pack that melts too quickly will overwhelm storage structures such as dams and leave the rivers dry in the later summer. The skimpy snow pack seen here is the result of a long-term western drought and the effects of global warming.
Above right and to the left: At a closer approach, one can see how the melting snow fills rivers and even small cirque lakes carved out of the mountainsides by mini-glaciers. These small lakes (left) are a unique alpine habitat.
Below left, snowpoles about 15 feet high illustrate how thick the snow pack may be at the end of winter, instead of the beginning of winter, such as the September day this photo was taken. These poles just outside of Yellowstone National Park will help the crews find and open the road the next June.
Below, mountains make their own weather. As air is pushed over this high peak north of Vancouver, British Columbia it cools; the water in it condenses, and a snowstorm erupts in June.
Rocky Mountains, Montana
Rocky Mountains, Montana

Rocky Mountains, Montana
Cascade Range, near Vancouver, British Columbia
Cascade Range, near Vancouver, British Columbia

Cascade Range, near Vancouver, British Columbia
Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri, Mt. Rainier
Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri, Mt. Rainier

Steller's Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri, Mt. Rainier
Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park
Above - the incredible Yosemite Valley, scooped out of the granite bedrock by a glacier, leaving streams hanging to fall thousands of feet in spectacular waterfalls.

Grand Teton Mountains, Wyoming
Grand Teton Mountains, Wyoming

Grand Teton Mountains, Wyoming
wildflowers, Mt Rainier
wildflowers, Mt Rainier




Summary:
Alpine biomes are cold,snowy, and windy because they're found in mountain regions everywhere.In the winters the temperatures are below freezing, the season can last from October to May as towards their summer seasons last from June to September .Their altitude is about 10,000 feet , it lies just below the snow line of a mountain. The only kind of animals that live in the alpine are warm blooded animals, they adapt to the cold climate by hibernating and migrating to warmer places.Animals will also tend to have shorter legs, tails, and ears, in order to reduce heat loss. Alpine animals also have larger lungs, more blood cells and hemoglobin because of the increase of pressure and lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. This is also true for people who have lived on mountains for a long time, like the Indians of the Andes Mountains in South America and the Sherpas of the Himalayas in Asia.
They have to deal with two things; the cold and too much high UV wavelengths.
This the only thing you can say about the climate in alpine regions is that it is colder than one would expect at sea level at the same latitude. Rainfall also varies considerably; as the rising air cools it loses the ability to retain moisture and clouds form, with the result of increasing precipitation on the side of a mountain exposed to winds. On the other side, the descending air (already dried by its trip over the mountains) warms and removes moisture from the ground - this is one of the driving forces behind the deserts in the American Southwest.




By;Clarissa Esqueda
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