Kola Peninsula tundra

May 15, 2013, 3:42 pm
Content Cover Image

River scene near Monchegorsk in Russia. Source: Kallerna cc-3.0

The Kola Peninsula tundra is a ecoregion covering much of Kola Peninsula of Russia as well as some northern Scandinavian subcoastal areas along the Barents Sea.

caption Kola Peninsula tundra ecoregion highlighted along the Barents and White Seas. Source: WWF

The ecoregion exhibits a cold, windy climate, with permafrost limiting the occurrence of trees; this ecoregion covers certain extreme subcoastal northern parts of Scandinavia and northwest Russia,  producing an environment dominated by grasses, hardy forbs, and shrubs including Dwarf Birch (Betula nana) and Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus). In these northern coastal areas, stony and shrub lichens are abundant. There are 146 taxa of verterbrates occurring within this northerly ecoregion, a level indicating  depauperate faunal species, especially with regard to reptiles and amphibians. Correspondingly, there is a near zero level of vertebrate endemism.

Winters in the ecoregion are warmer than would be expected, owing to prevailing westerly winds and a modest effect from the Gulf Stream. Summers are short and cool, leading to a low net annual evaporation and prevalence of numerous small shallow lakes and extensive swamplands. There are significant ongoing threats to the ecoregion, particularly on Russia's Kola Peninsula, where heavy untreated or partially treated discharges have led to substantial degradation of surface waters.

Location and general description

This ecoregion is part of the far northern tundra biome within the category of the Palearctic, encompassing the Kola Peninsula of Russia as well as some northern Scandinavian subcoastal areas along the Barents Sea. The southeastern limit of the ecoregion is defined by the White Sea. Due to proximity of these sea bodies which have a weak coupling to the Gulf Stream, the climate of this ecoregion is moderated with respect to a comparably situated continental land area. The region was last glaciated approximately 11,000 to 10,000 years before present.

The Kola Peninsula tundra ecoregion encompasses a land area of approximately 22,700 square miles, and is considered a critical and endangered ecoregion by the World Wildlife Fund, who gives it the appellation PA1106.


caption Polar Bear in the wild on the dwarf birch tundra. @ C. Michael Hogan There is considerable mammalian diversity within the Kola Peninsula tundra ecoregion. The Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), a circumboreal species in global decline, occurs in this ecoregion.

Another well known mammal in the ecoregion is the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus), an animal whose population is being shaped more by the allowed hunting of the species in several nations than by habitat issues. One should note that some of the greatest killing of this species is in Canada, while Russia has historically conducted considerable taking of the species, and has now outlawed the hunting of Polar Bears, at least on paper.

Other notable mammals found here are the Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus), the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos), the Ermine (Mustela erminea), the Eurasian Shrew (Sorex araneus), the Eurasian Water Shrew (Neomys fodiens), the European Pine Marten (Martes martes), the Moose (Alces alces), the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Amphibians and reptiles

The only amphibian species occurring in the Kola Peninsula tundra is the European Frog (Rana temporaria). Reptiles occurring in this tundra ecoregion consist of a single taxon, the Viviparous Lizard (Lacerta vivipara).

Threats to the ecoregion

The most severe threats to the ecoregion are within the largest element of the disjunctive ecoregion located on the northern part of Russia's Kola Peninsula. The threats generally began under the communist era of the USSR, when that government aggressively pursued nationalization of major industries and industrial expansion on the Kola Peninsula; the threat groups are represented by water pollution, soil contamination and air pollution.

caption Waters at the mouth of the Kem River, Russia. Source: Daniel Beilinson The rivers of the Kola Peninsula are particularly vulnerable to waste discharges, since they are generally shallow and of low volume. Chief water pollutants have consisted of phenols, formaldehyde and heavy metals such as mercury, lead, zinc and copper. In the case of the heavy metals, these residues often linger for decades in the river and lake bottom sediments. Some of the notable large rivers of the region that have been affected by such water pollution are the Niva, Onega and Kem, all of which discharge to the White Sea.

Chief air pollutants produced from the heavy industry in the region include black carbon and sulfur compounds. In the rush for economic productivity that began in the Soviet period, little attention has been given to utilizing air pollution emission controls in this region.

Soil contamination has included the deposition of strontium and coal sludge wastes; moreover, considerable damage to the region's soils and vegetation has occurred in the poorly centrally-planned collective industrial and mining expansion, with an outcome of extensive soil erosion and habitat destruction.

Justification of ecoregion delineation

This ecoregion is geographically isolated from other Arctic coastal tundra occurrences by the White Sea, resulting in distinct characteristics in plant and animal species. Mapped ecoregion boundaries correspond to the lowland tundra in the coastal Norway-Kola peninsula vegetation province in Kurnaev’s (1990) forest map of the USSR (now considered Russia).




Hogan, C. (2013). Kola Peninsula tundra. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbfb8c7896bb431f6bfb33