Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve


Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve

Region of the Russian Federation: Chukchi Autonomous Region

Status of Territories composing the Property: Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve

Area: 2 225 650 ha

Status: inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2004

The Wrangel Island Nature Reserve is located on the border of the East-Siberian and Chukchi seas on Wrangel and Herald Islands, surrounding 12 miles of water.

With the 180th meridian crossing its territory, the island falls into both Western and Eastern hemispheres. The terrain is mostly mountainous, strongly partitioned, with seacoast lowlands in the south and the north. There are 1,400 rivers and streams and about 900 small lakes (mostly of thermokarst origin) and several coastal lagoons on the island. Natural history, terrain, climatic conditions, and isolation have made the island much richer in endemic, rare and relict plant species compared with other Arctic territories of the same latitude. There are more than 400 species and subspecies of plants. The islands, which used to be a part of the ancient continent of Eurasia and North America, boast a wide variety of Eurasian and North American flora and fauna.

The island lies in the arctic tundra sub-zone with spotted and polygonal tundra prevailing. The mountains are covered with thinned low bush, grass, and lichen communities on stone placer and broken slag with scattered spots of plant associations of polar desert type. The lower and middle levels of mountain slopes are covered with grass-lichen, wood-grass-lichen, and low bush-grass communities. In the south-west and the center of the Wrangel Island, there are relict steppe and tundra-steppe vegetation communities with a variety of flowering plants. There are also sedge hypnum bogs with sphagnum, areas of sedge cotton grass bogs, and willow scrubs. Neither amphibians nor reptiles inhabit the islands. There are, however, 169 bird species, 62 of them nesting, on the islands. There are frequent rookeries of the kittiwake, pelagic cormorant, thick-billed guillemot, and guillemot. The local nesting colony of the white goose is the biggest in Eurasia. There are also the common eider, king eider, burgomaster, robin sandpiper, buff-breasted sandpiper, Sabine's gull, peregrin falcon, Arctic falcon, and snowy owl.

Mammal species are widely represented by the Siberian and arctic lemming, arctic fox. There are also fox, wolf, wolverine, and common weasel. The coastal waters are the habitat of the seal (ringed seal, bearded seal). The islands are the favorite ground of walrus. This is the largest walrus breeding ground in Russia. In the coastal waters, whale species can often be spotted: grey whale, great polar whale, fin whale, white whale. The islands are the habitat for the musk buffalo and domestic reindeer that used to be brought from the continent. The Wrangel and Herald Islands are the "maternity house" for the polar bear. In some years, there are up to 500 bear dense.

Fossil remains prove that about 3.6 thousand years ago the territory was inhabited by a small subspecies of mammoth. Radiocarbon monitoring shows that the mammoth lived there at the times of the ancient Egyptian civilizations. Before that, the mammoth inhabited the Bering area side by side with the ancient horse, buffalo, musk buffalo, and even woolly rhinoceros, and it became extinct no earlier than about 9,000 years ago. The isolated island population of small mammoth lived almost 6,000 years longer than its continental congeners. Ancient sites were also found on the islands.