how are the tundra and desert similar

So, how are the tundra and desert similar? It can be confusing, but the truth is that they are similar in many ways.

A biome is a large-scale ecosystem with distinctive climate, flora and fauna.

They range in size from a few square kilometers to millions of acres and are ubiquitous across the globe.

And when you talk about popular biomes, the tundra and the desert are two of the most common yet contrasting biomes.

So, how are the tundra and desert biomes similar?

They are similar because the tundra and the desert are both arid, frigid, and characterized by sparse flora and freezing nighttime lows. 

Exploring the Biomes

tall trees in forest

Biomes are huge regions of the Earth that have developed their own unique ecosystems due to climate, plant life, and animal species.

Temperature, precipitation, and altitude are only a few of the characteristics that establish a biome.

And based on these factors, there are two major biomes on Earth:

  • The Tundra
  • The Desert 

Learning the Basics of the Tundra

tundra environment scene

The Arctic tundra and the Alpine tundra are the two main varieties.

The Arctic tundra extends from the North Pole all the way down to the taiga, a woodland region in the Northern Hemisphere.

These areas are home to around 1,700 unique species of cold-hardy plants.

On the other hand, the alpine tundra describes the treeless landscape of the world’s highest mountains.

Animals in the tundra biome are accustomed to the cold; some hibernate throughout the winter months rather than competing with others for food. 

Learning the Basics of the Desert

scenic view of desert

Roughly 20% of Earth is covered in deserts.

The desert biome includes:

  • The coastal desert
  • The cold desert
  • The arid desert
  • The semi-arid desert

Low annual precipitation and high temperatures are two characteristics commonly associated with deserts.

However, even in these regions, the nightime temperatures drop significantly because the dry air does not trap the afternoon heat.

And that is probably the reason why extremely lengthy winters and freezing temperatures characterize frigid deserts

The Major Difference between the Tundra and Desert

desert and tundra environment

Frigid and arid best describe the tundra, a type of cold, dry landscape. There are merely two polar opposites of winter and summer in this area.

Tundra, in contrast to the desert, is found only at the Earth’s poles, while deserts are located towards the equator.

Similarly, deserts can be either hot or cold, the tundra is consistently chilly year-round.

It is not uncommon for tundra soil to be deficient in nutrients, while desert soil is commonly mineral-rich yet might be too dry and hostile for plant growth.

Wildlife in the tundra and desert is very different from each other.

Many animals call the tundra home, such as:

  • Arctic foxes
  • Reindeer
  • Polar bears

And they just cannot survive in the desert, but you can still find some desert dwellers as well, such as:

  • Jackrabbits
  • Roadrunners
  • Rattlesnakes
  • … so on.
Fact: The most prominent examples of the tundra biome can be found in Greenland, Alaska, Russia, Canada, and the sub-Antarctic Islands. 

How Are the Tundra and Desert Similar?

photo of tundra and desert

Undoubtedly, it is a lot easier to highlight the differences between the tundra and desert, than to describe how are the desert and tundra similar.

It is possible, nonetheless.

Here are some of the factors explaining what similarities you can find in the tundra and desert biomes.     

They Both Have Arid Climate

Since both the tundra and the desert have relatively little precipitation, both are classified as arid regions.

Because of this, water is a scarce commodity in both areas

The Climate in Deserts

high temp in the desert

Annual rainfall in deserts is often less than 10 inches (25 cm), making water conservation a priority.

The Atacama Desert in South America is one of the world’s driest places since it receives less than an inch of rain per year.

However, deserts are not all the same, and the amount of rain that falls on them can vary greatly.

A good example would be of the Mojave Desert, in the southwestern United States, which receives more rain and has more vegetation than other deserts.

It is worth mentioning that deserts receive the majority of their meager annual rainfall in a few, powerful storms.

These storms can cause flash floods, which are vital to the survival of local plant and animal life.

The Climate in the Tundra

trees covered with snow

Quite like deserts, rainfall in the tundra is not very abundant either, averaging between 150 to 250mm.

Snow is the primary form of precipitation on the tundra, accumulating to form a layer of year-round permafrost.

But the amount of rain that falls on the tundra might change from place to place, which is quite like how it is in deserts.

For instance, some coastal tundra regions, for instance, get more rain than their inland counterparts.

Fact: The most common examples of hot deserts can be found in the Middle East, North Africa, etc., 

They Both Experience Extreme Temperatures

Both the Tundra and Desert experience extreme temperatures, with the Tundra being extremely cold and the Desert being extremely hot. 

Extreme Temperatures in Deserts

high temperature measurement

The day-to-night temperature swings in deserts are among the largest of any region on Earth.

For example, daytime temperatures in the Sahara Desert in Africa and the Sonoran Desert in North America regularly exceed 38C.

The temperature drops quickly at night, and it can get rather chilly, even below freezing, in certain places.

The temperature shift in deserts is mainly due to two reasons, such as:

  • The intense solar radiation
  • The low humidity levels

Temperatures reach extreme highs during the day when the sun’s rays warm the atmosphere and the surface below.

The surface temperature drops rapidly when the sun goes down because the heat is radiated away. 

Extreme Temperatures in the Tundra

low temperature gauge

Conditions in the tundra are notoriously cold, though the exact degree of cold depends on the season and location.

Temperatures on the tundra can drop below -30F during the winter, and certain areas can plunge even more.

On the other hand, the tundra can see summertime highs of 64F or more, well above freezing.

Fact: In the Tundra, the ground right underneath the topsoil stays frozen throughout the year. 

They Both Have Unique Plants and Animals

Plants and animals in these areas are special because they have evolved to survive in their particular climates and terrains.

Plants in the Tundra and Desert, for instance, share some similarities, such as the presence of lichens and cacti, which have evolved to preserve water. 

Plants and Animals in the Tundra

scenic view of artic moss

It is difficult for plants to thrive in the tundra’s cold climate.

Typical plant life is scarce in this area. There are mostly mosses and lichens to be observed.

Even in arid regions, a wide range of plant life is impossible to find. 

Plants and Animals in Deserts

dates in the desert

Plants like the cactus, acacia tree, and date palm flourish in the warm climates of deserts.

Furthermore, grasses thrive in cold deserts thanks to the presence of algae.

In the desert, animals often seek shelter in crevices or under large rocks.

Nighttime, when temperatures drop, is the only time of day when animals can be active in scorching deserts.

Nonetheless, there is not a wide range of animal species in this area, which is quite the same as the tundra. 

They are Both Important for Global Climate

Just like the tundra, deserts seem unfriendly at first glance.

But, they both really host a surprisingly diverse array of plant and animal life, thanks to their ability to adapt to the harsh climate. Also, there is a global impact of both these biomes. 

Importance of Deserts

beautiful sand dunes

The deserts’ ability to absorb and reflect solar radiation is a key factor in the planet’s ability to maintain a stable climate.

The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere can be lowered in part because deserts serve as “sinks” for carbon.

It means deserts can absorb and store CO2 in their soils and flora. 

Importance of Tundra

scenic view of tundra

Just like deserts, a huge amount of carbon is stored in the soil of the tundra, making it a “sink” for carbon dioxide.

By lowering atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, this helps stabilize Earth’s climate.

Because many large rivers and lakes have their origins in the tundra, it provides a crucial source of potable water for many areas.

Fact: By exhaling water vapor into space through transpiration, the tundra contributes to stabilizing the global water cycle. 


How are the tundra and desert similar? Both the tundra and the desert are important biomes on earth, and they both have very contrasting ecology.

But, still, they share some similarities, like they both have arid climates, extreme temperatures, unique flora and fauna, etc.

And not to mention they both are “sinks” of carbon dioxide and have global importance.