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201416Feb17:04

Arc­tic bio­di­ver­sity under seri­ous threat from cli­mate change

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pub­lished 16 Feb­ru­ary 2014 | mod­i­fied 25 Decem­ber 2014
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Cli­mate change caused by human activ­i­ties is by far the worst threat to bio­di­ver­sity in the Arc­tic. Some of these changes are already vis­i­ble, accord­ing to a new report pre­pared by 253 sci­en­tists led by Dr Hans Meltofte of Aarhus University.

Arctic foxUnique and irre­place­able Arc­tic wildlife and land­scapes are cru­cially at risk due to global warm­ing caused by human activ­i­ties accord­ing to the Arc­tic Bio­di­ver­sity Assess­ment (ABA), a new report pre­pared by 253 sci­en­tists from 15 coun­tries under the aus­pices of the Con­ser­va­tion of Arc­tic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the bio­di­ver­sity work­ing group of the Arc­tic Council.

From the iconic polar bear and elu­sive nar­whal to the tiny Arc­tic flow­ers and lichens that paint the tun­dra in the sum­mer months, the Arc­tic is home to a diver­sity of highly adapted ani­mal, plant, fun­gal and micro­bial species. All told, there are more than 21,000 species.

Main­tain­ing bio­di­ver­sity in the Arc­tic is impor­tant for many rea­sons. For Arc­tic peo­ples, bio­di­ver­sity is a vital part of their mate­r­ial and spir­i­tual exis­tence. Arc­tic fish­eries and tourism have global impor­tance and rep­re­sent immense eco­nomic value. Mil­lions of Arc­tic birds and mam­mals that migrate and con­nect the Arc­tic to vir­tu­ally all parts of the globe are also at risk from cli­mate change in the Arc­tic as well as from devel­op­ment and hunt­ing in tem­per­ate and trop­i­cal areas. Marine and ter­res­trial ecosys­tems such as vast areas of low­land tun­dra, wet­lands, moun­tains, exten­sive shal­low ocean shelves, millennia-​old ice shelves and huge seabird cliffs are char­ac­ter­is­tic to the Arc­tic. These are now at stake, accord­ing to the report.

An entire bio­cli­matic zone, the high Arc­tic, may dis­ap­pear. Polar bears and the other highly adapted organ­isms can­not move fur­ther north, so they may go extinct. We risk los­ing sev­eral species forever
Hans Meltofte, chief sci­en­tist of the ABA report, Aarhus University »

“Cli­mate change is by far the worst threat to Arc­tic bio­di­ver­sity. Tem­per­a­tures are expected to increase more in the Arc­tic com­pared to the global aver­age, result­ing in severe dis­rup­tions to Arc­tic bio­di­ver­sity some of which are already vis­i­ble,” warns Meltofte.

A plan­e­tary increase of 2°C, the world­wide agreed upon accept­able limit of warm­ing, is pro­jected to result in vastly more heat­ing in the Arc­tic with antic­i­pated tem­per­a­ture increases of 2.87.8°C this cen­tury. Such dra­matic changes will likely result in severe dam­age to Arc­tic biodiversity.

Cli­mate change impacts are already vis­i­ble in sev­eral parts of the Arc­tic. These include north­ward range expan­sions of many species, ear­lier snow melt, ear­lier sea ice break-​up and melt­ing per­mafrost together with devel­op­ment of new oceanic cur­rent patterns.

It is expected that cli­mate change could shrink Arc­tic ecosys­tems on land, as north­ward mov­ing changes are pressed against the bound­ary of the Arc­tic Ocean: the so-​called Arc­tic squeeze. As a result, Arc­tic ter­res­trial ecosys­tems may dis­ap­pear in many places, or only sur­vive in alpine or island refuges.

Dis­ap­pear­ing sea ice is affect­ing marine species, chang­ing dynam­ics in the marine food web and pro­duc­tiv­i­ties of the sea. Many unique species found only in the Arc­tic rely on this ice to hunt, rest, breed and/​or escape predators.

Sta­tus and Trends of Arc­tic Biodiversity

“Sta­tus and Trends in Arc­tic Bio­di­ver­sity”, a film inspired by the inves­ti­ga­tions of the Arc­tic Bio­di­ver­sity Assess­ment, and pre­sented by the Con­ser­va­tion of Arc­tic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) and the Arc­tic Coun­cil in part­ner­ship with UNEP GRID-​Arendal:

(Source: CAFF­Bio­di­ver­sity on YouTube)

Key find­ings and threats to bio­di­ver­sity, accord­ing the ABA:

Arc­tic bio­di­ver­sity is being degraded, but deci­sive action taken now can help sus­tain vast, rel­a­tively undis­turbed ecosys­tems of tun­dra, moun­tains, fresh water and seas and the valu­able ser­vices they pro­vide

Cli­mate change is by far the most seri­ous threat to bio­di­ver­sity in the Arc­tic

Many Arc­tic migra­tory species are threat­ened by over­har­vest and habi­tat alter­ation out­side of the Arc­tic espe­cially birds along the East Asian fly­way

Dis­tur­bance and habi­tat degra­da­tion can dimin­ish Arc­tic bio­di­ver­sity and the oppor­tu­ni­ties for Arc­tic res­i­dents and vis­i­tors to enjoy the ben­e­fits of ecosys­tem ser­vices

Pol­lu­tion from both long-​range trans­port and local sources threat­ens the health of Arc­tic species and ecosys­tems

There are cur­rently few inva­sive alien species in the Arc­tic, but more are expected with cli­mate change and increased human activ­ity

Over­har­vest was his­tor­i­cally the pri­mary human impact on many Arc­tic species but sound man­age­ment has suc­cess­fully addressed this prob­lem in most, but not all, cases

Cur­rent knowl­edge of many Arc­tic species, ecosys­tems and their stres­sors is frag­men­tary, mak­ing detec­tion and assess­ment of trends and their impli­ca­tions dif­fi­cult for many aspects of Arc­tic bio­di­ver­sity

The chal­lenges fac­ing Arc­tic bio­di­ver­sity are inter­con­nected, requir­ing com­pre­hen­sive solu­tions and inter­na­tional coop­er­a­tion



(Source: Aarhus Uni­ver­sity news release, 14.02.2014; Arc­tic Bio­di­ver­sity Assess­ment press release, 15.05.2013)


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