Tundra, situated at a high elevation above the tree line, occurs in mountainous regions worldwide, including parts of Canada and Alaska. Because of the tundra's harsh climate and sparse vegetation, few animals can thrive there. Among those that can, many of the species that have traditionally lived there are now endangered. Climate change is one cause. At least 10 species living in the alpine tundra are considered endangered, including the Rocky Mountain goat, the gyrfalcon, the collared pika and the grizzly bear.
Rocky Mountain Goat
The Rocky Mountain goat, also known as a bighorn sheep, is well-adapted to living in mountainous regions including alpine tundra. The goat's hooves are naturally elastic, which allows the creature good grip and maneuverability on the rocky and uneven terrain that it inhabits. The Rocky Mountain goat has thick skin to allow him to cope with harsh climates and occasional fights with other mountain goats. While the Rocky Mountain goat is not yet on an endangered species list, he has been described as threatened in the alpine tundra, where populations are beginning to dwindle.
The gyrfalcon is another species that traditionally thrives in harsh and desolate climates. As a bird of prey, the gryfalcon is a skilled hunter of smaller birds and small mammals like shrews, marmots, lemmings, voles and hares. The bird often travels between 100 and 600 square kilometers in the winter because of scarce resources in the alpine tundra, and he will often travel south to look for more prey. This species is at risk because the populations of prey are threatened.
Although some might mistake this diminutive creature for a rodent, the collared pika is actually a small herbivorous mammal related to rabbits and hares. The collared pika has survived glacial epochs, so he is suited to the climate of the alpine tundra. He has become endangered because of recent climate change. The majority of the remaining population is situated primarily in sparsely vegetated boulder fields in the Yukon region.
Perhaps the highest-profile endangered animal of the alpine tundra, the grizzly bear is now considered a threatened species. Once an estimated 50,000 grizzly bears roamed North America, now roughly only 1,000 to 1,200 remain in the lower 48 states. Some estimates say more than 30,000 grizzly bears remain in Alaska, but the number is not known for certain. Grizzly bears are omnivorous and opportunistic when it comes to food, eating things including roots, berries, insects, salmon, elk, and caribou. As with the gyrfalcon, part of the reason the grizzly is threatened is because of a shortage of food.
Other Endangered Species
Other alpine tundra species considered endangered are the California bighorn sheep, the Dall sheep, the caribou, the red-tailed chipmunk, and the least sandpiper. Additionally, the Vancouver Island marmot and the Cascade mantled ground squirrel were being considered by the Wildlife Branch in British Columbia for designation as endangered or threatened.
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