Ecoregions of Taymyr and Severnaya Zemlya

Taymyr-Central Siberian tundra Ecoregion

The Asian landmass reaches its furthest north point at Cape Chelyakin in the Taymyr Peninsula. To the south is the Taymyr-Central Siberian tundra ecoregion. To the west of the peninsula is the Kara Sea, dotted with islands, and to the east is the Laptev Sea. The area is drained by the Taymyr, Khatanga, Pyasina, and Anabar Rivers. West of the Khatanga Gulf, the peninsula and Severnaya Zemlya are administratively part of Krasnoyarsk, while east of the Khatanga Gulf is the Sakha Republic, which includes the Anabar and Olenek River drainages and Begichev Island.

The Taymyr Peninsula contains two of the largest Russian state nature reserves, the Great Arctic and Taymyr. These areas consist of multiple units. The World Wildlife Fund considers them to be part of its Global 200 ecoregions—the most important for biodiversity in the world.

The coast of the peninsula is dotted with islands and is the summer habitat of migratory waterfowl—four species of geese, Betwick’s swan, and ducks. The Great Arctic Nature Reserve contains 80 percent of the nesting and moulting habitat of the brent goose. On coastal cliffs are nests of peregrine falcon and snowy owl. Marine mammals include fox, reindeer, musk ox, and lemmings, while marine mammals include seals and whales (Mazurov et al., 2012).

Permafrost-preserved horse and wolf bones have provided information important to understanding the domestication of the horse and dog. Based on 35,000-year-old wolf bones found along the Bolshaya Balakhnaya River, Skoglund et al. (2015) were able to recalibrate the wolf mutation rate; and conclude that dogs converged from wolves at least 27,000 years ago. Wolves in Siberia were in the ancestry of high latitude dog breeds.

Based on horse bones radiocarbon dated to 42,000 and 16,000 years Before Present, Schubert et al. (2014) were able to compare ancient genomes to those of today’s domestic horse. The ancient population contributed to the genetics of current breeds. Domestication gene changes focused on muscular and limb development, joints, and the cardiac system. Other gene changes focused on cognitive function, including social behavior, learning, fear response, and agreeableness. These changes were key to taming horses for domestication. Horses are believed to have been domesticated about 5,500 years ago in Kazakhstan. Modern Przewalski’s horse, the last remaining wild horse, is not believed to be the direct ancestor of modern horses. There are believed to be three genetically distinct populations of ancient horses: the archaic group in Taymyr, the ancestors of Przewalski’s horses in Kazakhstan, and the ancestor of modern domestic horses, which is still missing (Leonardi et al., 2018).

Man and the Biosphere Reserve

Taymyr Nature Reserve is 1,781,928 ha in 5 units, protecting the breeding range of red-breasted goose and the summer breeding range of reindeer. The Ary-Mas unit (N72°25’ E102°0’) of 15,611 ha contains the northernmost Dahurian larch forest on terraces above the New River. The main core unit to the west of Lake Taymyr (N74°0’ E100°0’) includes part of the Byrranga Mountain Range, with 96 glaciers, rising to 1,000 m. It is part of the Lower Verkhnyaya Tayyr River Important Bird Area. The Lukunsky Unit (N72°2’ E105°0’) is 9,005 ha and includes Lake Levinson-Lessing. On the Laptev Sea is the Pronchishchev Bay (N76°0’ E115°0’), which includes a walrus rookery, polar bear habitat, marine mammals, and nesting coastal bird areas. The Bikada area to the east of Lake Taymyr (N75°0’ E106°0’) is 937,760 ha.

Ramsar Site—wetland of international importance

Gorbita Delta (N73°0’ E95°0’) is 75,000 ha containing the most important goose breeding area in Taymyr area. White-fronted goose, red-breasted goose, and bean goose use the 80-km-long river valley for breeding. It is an Important Bird Area.

Other sites

Great Arctic Nature Reserve is 4,165,200 ha extending along the Kara Sea and including many of its islands. Some of the major sites include Kara Sea Islands (Sergei Kirov, Voronina, Izvestiy TSIK, Arkticheskiiy Institute, Sverdrup, and Uedineniya), the Nordenskjold Archipelago (N76°35’ E96°40’), Pyasina Gulf (N74°0’ E80°0’), Middendorf Bay (N75°50 E92°30’), Lower Taymyr (N76°E100°), and Chelyuskin (N77°44’ E104°15’), and Brekhovsky Islands (N70°30’ E82°45’). The Nordenskjold Archipelago is an Important Bird Area and includes Ledyanyye Islands, Vkhodnoy Island, Nansen Island, Taymyr Island, Votyochnyye Islands, Litke Islands, Russky Island, Pakhtusov Island, Vilkitsky Island, and Tsivolka Island. The Lower Taymyr unit is also the Nizhnyaya Taymyr River Important Bird Area.

Also on the Kara Sea, Lower Leningrad River (N76°21′ E102°13′) is an Important Bird Area.

In the Khatanga Gulf area of the Laptev Sea, Gusikha River and Lower Balakhnaya River (N73°54′ E106°21′), and Khara-Tumus Peninsula and Nordvik Bay (N73°47′ E110°57′) are Important Bird Areas.

On the Laptev Sea, Olenek Bay (N73°6′ E119°36′), Preobrazheniya Island (N74°39′ E112°57′), and Terpyey-Tumus Area (N73°30′ E117°9′) are Important Bird Areas.

Inland on the Taymyr Peninsula, Anabar River (N70°34′ E112°58′), Dudypta River Plains (N71°32′ E93°31′), Kurluska Lake and Middle Boganida Valley (N71°29′ E97°3′), and Volochanka River Basin (N70°41′ E93°51′) are Important Bird Areas.

Arctic Desert Ecoregion

Between the Taymyr Peninsula and the North Pole are the Northern Lands or Severnaya Zemlya, consisting of large glaciated islands—Bolshevik Island, October Revolution Island, Kamsomalets Island, and Pioneer Island. These islands make up the Arctic Desert ecoregion.

Until the 2010s, the Vilkitsky Straight between the Taymyr Peninsula and Bolshevik Island remained frozen throughout the summer. In recent years, it has become ice-free, allowing navigation in the summer.

Severnaya Zemlya provides habitat for cliff-nesting seabirds such as the little auk, kittiwake, black guillemot, ivory gull, and glaucous gull. Inland are nesting areas for brent goose, purple sandpiper, and snow bunting (de Korte, Volkov, and Gavrilo, 1995).  The islands are also a major gathering point for polar bears. The archipelago is attractive because there is year-round contact with sea ice (Belikov et al. 1998).

However, the year-round sea ice may be changing. The eastern Eurasian Basin is evolving toward a state of less sea ice and a new Arctic climate state. Record-breaking sea-ice loss occurred in 2007 and 2012 for both the Amerasian Basin and the Eurasian Basin. The Eurasian Basin has been nearly ice-free at the end of summer since 2011. Warm Atlantic water appears to be getting into the basin. The area east of Svalbard is melting quickly. This warming continues to move east toward Severnaya Zemlya (Polyakov et al., 2017).


Belikov, Stanislav E. 1998. Polar Bears of the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago of the Russian Arctic. Ursus 10:33-40.

Grimm, David. May 21, 2015. Arctic find confirms ancient origin of dogs.

J. de Korte, A.E. Volkov, M.V. Gavrilo. 1995. Bird Observations in Severnaya Zemlya, Siberia. Arctic 48:222-234.

Leonardi, Michela et al. 2018. Late Quaternary horses in Eurasia in the face of climate and vegetation change. Science Advances 4:eaar5589 (10.1126/sciadv.aar.5589).

Mazurov, Yuri L. et al. 2012. Natural Heritage of Taimyr: Challenges for its Conservation and Sustainable Use. Geography, Environment, Sustainability 5:88-103 (10.15356/2071-9388-03v05-2012-07).

Polyakov, Igor, et al. 2017. Greater role for Atlantic inflows on sea-ice loss in the Eurasian Basin of the Arctic Ocean. Science 356:285-291. (10.1126/scienceaai8204)

Schubert, Mikkel et al. 2014. Prehistoric genomes reveal the genetic foundation and cost of horse domestication. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences 111:E566-E5669 (10.1073/pnas.1416991111).

Skoglund, Pontus et al. 2015. Ancient wolf genome reveals an early divergence of domestic dog ancestors and admixture into high-latitude breeds. Current Biology 25:P1515-P1519 (10.1016/j.cub.2015.04.019).


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