Ecosystems and Wildlife

goats nesting gulls

Plants and animals that live in Alaska have adapted to the long winters and short summers in order to be able to successfully survive and reproduce. Plants often go dormant during the winter and use various strategies to maximize growth during the spring and summer. Mobile birds and animals are able to take a wider variety of approaches with some adapted to live in the state year round, enduring the bitterly cold Arctic and Interior winters, while others migrate long distances to overwinter in milder climates or in areas with less snow cover. Fish move throughout river systems in search of open water and feeding areas. Anadromous fish species like salmon migrate upstream to spawn in freshwater, allowing their offspring to grow to a larger size before entering the ocean where they will grow to a larger size than they could if they remained in freshwater.

Migration and Movement

sea lion haulout

Birds, mammals and fish often move long distances to breed, find over-wintering habitat or to take advantage of seasonal food supplies. Migrating allows species such as Arctic terns to breed and raise their young in the Arctic with its abundant summer food supplies despite being unable to survive there year round. For migratory species unimpeded movement is critical to their survival as they must be able to reach all of the habitats they require to successfully complete their life cycle.

For more information see:

fall hare



Adaptations are physical or behavioral changes that allow plants and animals to be more successful under given conditions. Many animals in Alaska have adaptations that allow them to deal with the extreme cold and the seasonally available food supplies. Common adaptations to the climate include slower growth, thicker fur, larger size and behavioral adaptations such as hibernation and storing food.

For more information see: