Polar Biomes

Ralph E. Taggart, Professor

Department of Botany and Plant Pathology

Department of Geological Sciences

Michigan State University

Polar biomes are characterized by very low temperatures throughout the year, with the permanent presence of snow and ice. This eliminates the possibility of the development of significant terrestrial vegetation, although microscopic algae, known as cryovegetation, may develop temporarily on the ice or snow. This lack of terrestrial producers results in very low diversity in polar biomes, with the nature of the organisms which might be present dependent on other factors.

The North Polar or Arctic biome is developed as marine pack ice, formed over rather diverse marine communities. Specialized predators, such as this polar bear, can subsist on animals such as fish and seals, which are the top predators in the marine systems beneath the ice. In contrast, the South Polar or Antarctic biome consists of ice developed on the continent of Antarctica. Ice shelves along the continental margin can support communities made up largely of birds such as penguins. While penguins may migrate inland for some distances to lay their eggs in areas where predator diversity is extremely low (usually other birds), the interior of Antarctica has the lowest biodiversity of any terrestrial biome and is essentially devoid of complex life forms.

The functional equivalent of polar biomes can be found associated with the permanent ice and snow on top of very high mountains, even in the tropics.

Ralph E. Taggart (taggart@msu.edu)