Arctic Biodiversity

02 May 2011
The Arctic contains many species not found elsewhere, and many habitats and ecological processes and adaptations that are unique. These include the seasonal bursts of life on land and in the ocean, the ability of some plants to survive extreme cold and dryness, the physiological features that allow mammals to maintain body heat through an Arctic winter, and the presence of life within sea ice.

Furthermore, some groups such as willows, sawflies, and sandpipers are found in greater diversity in the Arctic than anywhere else. In a global context, the Arctic is a significant component of the diversity of life on Earth.

Over recent decades many changes have occurred in the Arctic environment. Most notably, the significance of climate change as an impact factor has been greatly elevated, in the Arctic as well as at a global scale. A warming climate in the Arctic is projected to set off many environmental changes including melting sea ice, increased run-off, and an eventual rise in sea level with immense coastal implications.

Some of these changes are already being felt. Increasing temperatures are already showing many effects on Arctic biodiversity including the northward movement of more southern species, shrubbing and greening of the land, changing plant communities and their associated fauna, increases in invasive species displacing native Arctic inhabitants, and the emergence of new diseases. Additionally, changes in the timing of events (phenology) are an aspect of change which may lead to mismatches between related environmental factors. As a result, some local biodiversity may be in imminent danger of extinction.

Climate change is emerging as the most far reaching and significant stressor on Arctic biodiversity. However complex interactions between climate change and other factors have the potential to magnify impacts on biodiversity. Other stressors are important and continue to have impacts e.g. contaminants, habitat fragmentation, development, bycatch and unsustainable harvest levels. These ongoing and developing changes provide a challenge in determining how best to respond and take into account these changes when planning for the sustainable and effective management of the Arctic.

The Arctic Council is actively addressing the conservation of biodiversity, including through the efforts of the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF).

Click here for CAFFs video Arctic Biodiversity Trends 2010