Climate change "squeezing" Arctic animals and plants: new circumpolar report

PRESS RELEASE: 20 May 2021: Reykjavik, Iceland

Arctic plants, insects, birds and land mammals are experiencing wide ranging and diverse effects from climate change. The timing of key life events, changing habitats, and the introduction of new predators and potentially new diseases are among the impacts described in a new report based on long-term biodiversity monitoring from around the Arctic.

The State of the Arctic Terrestrial Biodiversity Report provides the most comprehensive circumpolar synthesis to date about biodiversity on Arctic lands. Dozens of experts from across the Arctic produced the report under the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), the cornerstone program of the Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group.

Species from southern ecosystems, such as red fox, moose, and voles are moving into the Arctic, and are expected to push Arctic species northwards, creating an “Arctic squeeze.”

Changing frequency, intensity and timing of extreme weather events such as winter rain and thaws make it hard for some species such as lemmings and caribou/reindeer to access food. Increased frequency of heavy rain events, and warm temperatures causing massive blackfly outbreaks, have killed Arctic peregrine falcon chicks. The effects of such incidents on wildlife populations are unknown at this time.

These changes cascade through the ecosystem and may affect services that nature provides for people, such as pollination, nutrient cycling and food. Changes in culturally important food resources have implications on the food security and cultures of Indigenous Peoples and Arctic residents

While large data gaps make it difficult to summarize circumpolar trends, the report says:

  • There has been increased growth and encroachment of shrubs and trees in parts of the low Arctic. Plant abundance remained mainly stable, but when changes occurred, shrubs, mosses and lichens were most affected.
  • Important pollinating flies decreased 80% between 1996 and 2014 at a site in East Greenland.
  • More than half of the terrestrial Arctic bird populations have at least one population in decline.
  • More than half of all wader species are declining, but there is large variation across flyways with 88% of populations declining in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, compared with 70% of populations stable or increasing in the African-Eurasian Flyway.
  • Nearly half of geese species are increasing.
  • Circumpolar populations of caribou/reindeer have declined since the 1990s, with the most dramatic decreases observed for migratory tundra and forest caribou/reindeer populations even as some island or mountain populations remain stable. 

The report also describes the status of terrestrial biodiversity monitoring around the Arctic, highlighting ways to improve detection and reporting on significant changes in the Arctic. The report calls for better coordination, standardization of methods, and improved use of Indigenous Knowledge, Local Knowledge, and citizen science.

For further information:

Download the SAFBR Key Findings and Advice for Monitoring

Download the SAFBR full report

About the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)

CAFF is the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council and consists of National Representatives assigned by each of the eight Arctic Council Member States, representatives of Indigenous Peoples' organizations that are Permanent Participants to the Council, and Arctic Council observer countries and organizations. CAFF’s mandate is to address the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, and to communicate its findings to the governments and residents of the Arctic, helping to promote practices which ensure the sustainability of the Arctic’s living resources. 

About the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP)

The Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP) is an international network of scientists, governments, Indigenous organizations and conservation groups working to harmonize and integrate efforts to monitor the Arctic's living resources. The goal is to facilitate more rapid detection, communication, and response to the significant biodiversity-related trends and pressures affecting the circumpolar world. The CBMP organizes its efforts around the major ecosystems of the Arctic: marine, freshwater, terrestrial and coastal. The CBMP has been endorsed by the Arctic Council and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the official Arctic Biodiversity Observation Network of the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEOBON). 

About the Arctic Council

The Arctic Council is a high level intergovernmental forum to provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.  Arctic Council Member States are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States of America. In addition to the Member States, the Arctic Council has the category of Permanent Participants who include the Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC), Aleut International Association (AIA), Gwich'in Council International (GGI), Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) and the Saami Council (SC). 

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