Top Producers, Consumers and Decomposers in the Arctic Tundra

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Arctic foxes, bears, snowshoe hares, lemmings, snow geese, snowy owls, caribou, and wolves are some of the most common consumers in the arctic tundra. Some of the most common producers are grass, willow, reindeer lichen, bearberries, lichens, and sedges. Bacteria, fungi, nematodes, carrion beetles, flies, ravens, and gulls are all Arctic tundra decomposers and detritivores.

What are Producers?

Producers are plants and any other photosynthesizing organisms that use sunlight to produce energy. They provide food for organisms that can’t provide their own.  


What are Consumers?


Consumers are the organisms that eat the producers, though they may also eat other consumers. Consumers can be divided into three groups: primary consumers, secondary consumers, and tertiary consumers. Primary consumers are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants or producers. Secondary consumers are either carnivores, meaning they only eat other animals, or omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals (i.e. they will eat both producers and primary consumers). Tertiary consumers are also either carnivores or omnivores, but they eat both producers and secondary consumers. Some animals may be primary, secondary, and tertiary consumers, depending on their diet and what foods they have access to in their areas. 


What are Decomposers? 


Decomposers round out the cycle by cleaning up dead consumers and producers. They break down the dead matter, and turn the nutrients into fertilizer for producers, completing the cycle. Detritivores may also be included in this group. While decomposers break matter down externally, detritivores do it by consuming the dead matter. Fungi and bacteria are typically considered decomposers, while animals like crabs, some birds, insects, worms, and even some mammals are detritivores. Any animal considered a scavenger can be included as a detritivore.   


How are They All Important to Each Other? 


Together, producers, consumers, and decomposers make up the food web in every ecosystem. Without one another, the others would become extinct, so all three are essential for continuing life on planet Earth. Producers provide food for consumers or a consumer’s prey. When producers and consumers die, decomposers and detritivores turn the dead matter into nutrients that return to the soil so producers can feed on it. 


What is the Arctic Tundra? 


Located in the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic tundra is located between the area known as the North Pole and the northern coasts of North America, Greenland, Europe, and Asia. It has a naturally cold climate, though summer temperatures may top out at up to 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter averages are closer to -34 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the plant life here is made up of shrubs, mosses, grasses, and other flora that don’t require deep roots due to the region’s permafrost that sits about nine inches under the surface during the warmest parts of the year. Most of the animals in the Arctic tundra have either learned to adapt to the cold, or they hibernate through the winter and come out during the short summertime to eat, mate, and give birth. The Arctic tundra is considered a desert and sees little precipitation—about six to 10 inches—each year. 


How is the Food Web Different in the Arctic Tundra Compared to Other Habitats? 


Because of the cold climate in the tundra, the food web doesn’t work as quickly as it does in other climates. Due to the low temperatures, only certain types of producers, consumers, and decomposers can survive. The layer of permafrost on the ground can also delay the decomposition of dead plant and animal matter. Some creatures, like the Arctic fox, will scavenge for dead animal matter beneath the frozen ground when necessary.