Flora and Fauna in the Cold WastelandsCreating plant and animal life appropriate for desert areas is radically different to creating it for most terrain. You have to take into account the effects of the environment, not just on animal behaviour, but also on the way the species has adapted to the environment.
The lessons learned herein can be applied to any environment, and boil down to: When designing plant and animal life, take into account the environment they have to live in.
The cold deserts defined here are not the snowy wastelands where nothing grows. Rather, it is the tundra, the cold, dry lands between the icy wastes and the tree line. Tundra (taken from the Finnish for barren land) is barren as no trees can take root there, and crops will not grow.
The winters are long and cold, with snow covering the land for more than half the year. The summers are very short and there is next to no rain. Summer sun only melts the top few centimetres of soil fully. More and more ice appears as you go deeper, till at a metre down, the soil is frozen solid. This is why no trees can take root in the tundra.
On Earth, tundra covers about 10% of the planet, so it is definitely an environment to take seriously.
During ice ages, huge sheets of ice cover tundra land, eroding away any fluctuations in the landscape. When the ice melts, all that is left is a long, flat plain.
Cold Desert Plants
All plants make their own food from light, soil minerals and water. All three are necessary in order to metabolise food.
In tundra, because it is so flat and open, harsh winds blow all the time. In order to survive, the plants cling close to the ground. Leaves spread out to catch as much sunlight as possible, whilst keeping out of the freezing wind. Lichens and mosses cover the rocks, and are hardy enough to stay alive under a winter blanket of snow.
Growth is very, very slow, with plant metabolisms sluggish in the extreme, in order to cope with being buried for over half their lives.
As with hot deserts, when the snow melts, and water covers the land, plants leap up to flower briefly, putting their all into one fling at life during the months of wet, boggy ground; scattering their seeds to the ever-present winds, before dying under the next blanket of snow.
Grasses and heathers grow on flat, stony ground where the bogginess is prevented from encroaching due to rock. Animal droppings are much sought after as a source of nutrients, and clumps of grasses soon emerge in any latrine area.
Dwarf trees may spring up - bearing all the hallmarks of trees, but only lifting a few centimetres off the ground, and spreading purely horizontally.
Cold Desert Wildlife
A wide variety of animals can live off of the horizontal plants covering the tundra. Large herbivores the size of oxen are very possible; these animals have widely spaced hooves like snowshoes to prevent them sinking in the summer bogs or winter snow.
Small lemming sized creatures, and rats live in the tundra, foraging off the plant life, and hibernating in the snow. Predatory creatures such as wolves and foxes traverse the tundra alone or in packs, eating all of the above if they can.
As with the summer-only plants, summer only insects such as spiders, bees, and butterflies exist as eggs in the frozen snow, to hatch when the temperature warms, mate and lay eggs again before the snow hits.
All tundra creatures of vole size and up have thick shaggy pelts to keep the heat in, and the wind out. It is worth noting that you do not encounter cold-blooded creatures in the tundra, as they simply would not survive the winter.
Some weirder evolutions do include birds with feathers on their feet. These feathers act as show platforms, giving a perch on frozen, snowy ground.