The alpine tundra is a peaceable kingdom set high above the clouds and surrounded by jagged peaks. Located above 11,000 feet in Colorado, the high altitude biome is characterized by an extreme climate. Heavy snow, freezing temperatures, fierce winds and a glaring sun make this domain an inhospitable place to live.
In Colorado's Rocky Mountains, paradise has been restored. Astonishingly, a distinct aggregation of plants and animals has managed to adapt to the arctic-style ecosystem. The unique creatures that inhabit such a lofty realm are a tight-knit bunch. They have learned to rely on each other in order to survive in such a harsh habitat.
The flora in "the land of no trees" is dominated by dwarfed, perennial ground cover that grows and reproduces slowly. Some plants take two or more years to produce buds, which survive winters below the surface and then open brilliant flowers that bloom during the few weeks of summer. In the fall, an inner light ignites the vegetation and transforms the steppe into a blazing carpet of reds and oranges.
Most of the fauna migrate to lower elevations to spend the winter but a few foolish species live above tree line all year long. Mountain goats are white-robed monarchs that climb with ease between the steep, craggy cliffs. Marmots gorge themselves for four months and rely on fat reserves during hibernation while tiny pikas build cozy nests constructed deep beneath a muddled boulder field.
All life in the tundra is closely related. No organism lives here alone, each depends in some way on the other living and non-living things in the highlands. A small change in one part of the environment can cause a ripple-effect of disruption throughout the area. If fragile tundra plants are destroyed, the exposed soil is blown away and the ensuing recovery may take a millennium. We must tread softly.
July 15th, 2019
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