High Arctic species on thin ice

A new assessment of the Arctic’s biodiversity reports a 26 per cent decline in species populations in the high Arctic.

Populations of lemmings, caribou and red knot are some of the species that have experienced declines over the past 34 years, according to the first report from The Arctic Species Trend Index (ASTI), which provides crucial information on how the Arctic’s ecosystems and wildlife are responding to environmental change.

While some of these declines may be part of a natural cycle, there is concern that pressures such as climate change may be exacerbating natural cyclic declines.

In contrast, population levels of species living in the sub-Arctic and low Arctic are relatively stable and in some cases, increasing. Populations of marine mammals, including bowhead whales found in the low Arctic, may have benefited from the recent tightening of hunting laws. Some fish species have also experienced population increases in response to rising sea temperatures.

“Rapid changes to the Arctic’s ecosystems will have consequences for the Arctic that will be felt globally. The Arctic is host to abundant and diverse wildlife populations, many of which migrate annually from all regions of the globe. This region acts as a critical component in the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological regulatory system,” says lead-author Louise McRae from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Data collected on migratory Arctic shorebirds show that their numbers have also decreased. Further research is now needed to determine whether this is the result of changes in the Arctic or at other stopover sites on their migration.

Louise McRae adds: “Migratory Arctic species such as brent goose, dunlin and turnstone are regular visitors to the UK’s shores. We need to sit up and take notice of what’s happening in other parts of the world if we want to continue to experience a diversity of wildlife on our own doorstep.”

The ASTI includes almost 1,000 datasets on Arctic species population trends, including representation from 35 per cent of all known vertebrate species found in the Arctic.

Co-author Christoph Zöckler from the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre says: “The establishment of these results comes at a crucial time for finding accurate indicators to monitor global biodiversity as governments strive to meet their targets of reducing biodiversity loss.”

The findings of the first ASTI report will be presented at the ‘State of the Arctic’ Conference in Miami, USA. The full report will be available to download from www.asti.is on Wednesday 17th March, 2010.

Editorial notes:

The Arctic Species Trend Index (ASTI) uses population monitoring data to track trends in marine, terrestrial and freshwater Arctic vertebrate species. The index allows for a composite measure of the overall population trends of Arctic vertebrate populations. It can also be organized to display trends based on taxonomy, biome or region. The Index tracks almost 1000 Arctic vertebrate population data-sets by biome, taxa, migratory status and so on. The Arctic Species Trend Index was commissioned by the Arctic Council’s CAFF Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program. The development of the index was a collaboration between the CBMP, the Zoological Society of London, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Further information is available from: www.asti.is

The Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP) was implemented by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group of the Arctic Council. More info: www.cbmp.is The Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program is the cornerstone program of CAFF. The Government of Canada currently leads the program. The purpose of the Program is to harmonize and enhance long-term biodiversity monitoring efforts across the Arctic. The Program operates as an international network of scientists, local resource users, community experts and others. The resulting information is used to assist decision making from the global to local level to conserve biodiversity. All eight Arctic Nations participate in the program. Participants also include six global-wide indigenous organizations, as well as over 60 organizational partners.

Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research at the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation overseas. For further information please visit www.zsl.org

The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is the biodiversity assessment and policy implementation arm of the United Nations Environment Programme. It provides objective, scientifically rigorous products and services that include ecosystem assessments, support for implementation of environmental agreements, regional and global biodiversity information, research on threats and impacts, and development of future scenarios for the living world. www.unep-wcmc.org

You are an integral part of nature; your fate is tightly linked with biodiversity, the huge variety of other animals and plants, the places they live and their surrounding environments, all over the world. You rely on this diversity of life to provide you with the food, fuel, medicine and other essentials you simply cannot live without. Yet this rich diversity is being lost at a greatly accelerated rate because of human activities. This impoverishes us all and weakens the ability of the living systems, on which we depend, to resist growing threats such as climate change. 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, and people all over the world are working to safeguard this irreplaceable natural wealth and reduce biodiversity loss. This is vital for current and future human wellbeing. We need to do more. Now is the time to act. For further information please visit: http://www.biodiversityislife.net/

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