IAB1: Hot spots, connectivity and sensitive areas for biodiversity conservation benefit

Date: Tuesday October 9, 2018

Location: Valtuustosali, City Hall

Time: 17:00-18:30

Arctic species today enjoy large areas of habitat that support a full range of ecological processes and interactions. But climate change, industrial development, pollution, local disturbances and invasive alien species are affecting the Arctic, and their impacts are increasing. The Arctic Biodiversity Assessment called for the advancement and protection of large areas of ecologically important marine, terrestrial and freshwater habitats, considering ecological resilience in a changing climate. To do this effectively requires the identification of hot spots, sensitive areas and connectivity for the benefit of conservation. This session explores these issues and presents recent work to advance hot spot and sensitive area identification and protection.

Chairs: Reidar Hindrum, Norwegian Environment Agency; Deb Cooper, US National Parks Service

Format: Series of presentations followed by discussion


  1. Rediscovery of walruses in the Pechora Sea: Andrei Boltunov, Marine Mammal Research and Expedition Center LTDpdf
  2. Abundance and species diversity hotspots of tracked marine predators across the North American Arctic: David Yurkowski, University of Manitobapdf
  3. Arctic-breeding seabirds' hotspots in space and time: a framework for year-round modelling of abundance and environmental niche using SEATRACK data: Arnaud Tarroux, Norwegian Institute for Nature Researchpdf
  4. Abundance and distribution of marine mammals wintering in the North Water and Northeast Water polynyas in Greenland: Rikke Guldborg Hansen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resourcespdf
  5. Arctic islands –biodiversity consequences of climate driven fragmentation of Arctic ecosystems: Fredrik Dalerum, University of Oviedopdf
  6. What traits make species sensitive to climate change in northern ecosystems? Juha Pöyry, Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)pdf



Rediscovery of walruses in the Pechora Sea

Varvara Semenova, Marine Mammal Research and Expedition Center LTD; Andrei Boltunov, Marine Mammal Research and Expedition Center LTD

The Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus Linnaeus, 1758) ranges from eastern and central Canadian Arctic eastward to the Kara Sea. Presumably eight stocks can be distinguished in the range of the subspecies. One of them inhabits the area of the Kara Sea – Southern Barents Sea – Novaya Zemlya. By the beginning of 21st century walruses in this region remained the least studied part of the Atlantic subspecies. Since 1956 the Atlantic walrus is listed in the Red Data Book of Russia as endangered taxon. Considering unique status of the walrus stock in the Pechora Sea and rising economic activity in the region, the gap in knowledge about biology and ecology of this species there was obvious. Especially critical was the lack of data on seasonal distribution and key habitats of walruses – areas of rest, feeding, reproduction and migration. The study of key habitats of the Pechora walruses was conducted by means of satellite tagging and by mounting digital photo traps on coastal haulouts. In 2012-2017 30 adult walruses (males) were tagged with Argos satellite transmitters (harpoon attachment). Average duration of the tags transmitting was 46.9 days (95% confidence limits 34.1-59.7), maximum – 155 days. In 2014-2017 24 photo traps were placed on coastal haulouts on the Vaigach and Matveev islands. Comprehensive analysis of the results allowed identifying the key coastal and marine habitats of walruses, the dynamics of the haulouts’ use. Satellite tagging also showed that during summer-autumn the majority of the local walrus group stays in the limits of the Pechora Sea from Gulyaevskie Koshki islands on the west to Vaigach Island on the east. At the same time, it was shown that some individuals can perform long-distance movements (more than 1500 km) entering the Kara Sea: the area near the northern part of Novaya Zemlya, at the west coast of the Yamal Peninsula and near Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. In addition, samples of adipose tissue from 16 adult male walruses were analyzed on persistent organic contamination. Concentrations of pollutants have vast individual variations, and exceed levels found in walruses from Svalbard area. The variation may suggest that considerable part of the population prey upon harp and ringed seals. First estimate of the population species in the Pechora Sea during ice season (December – June) was done basing on aerial observations in 2014: 3117±1210 walruses.


Abundance and species diversity hotspots of tracked marine predators across the North American Arctic

D. Yurkowski, M. Auger-Méthé, M. L. Mallory, S. N. P. Wong, H. G. Gilchrist, A. E. Derocher, E. Richardson, N. J. Lunn, N. E. Hussey, M. Marcoux, R. Togunov, A.T. Fisk, L. A. Harwood, R. Dietz, A. Rosing-Asvid, E. W. Born, A. Mosbech, J. Fort, D. Grémillet, L. Loseto, P. R. Richard, J. Iacozza, F. Jean-Gagnon, T. M. Brown, K. H. Westdal, J. Orr, B. LeBlanc, K. J. Hedges, M. A. Treble, S. T. Kessel, P. J. Blanchfield, S. Davis, M. Maftei, N. Spencer, C. L. McFarlane-Tranquilla, W. A. Montevecchi, B. Bartzen, D. L. Dickson, C. Anderson and S. H. Ferguson

Climate change is altering marine ecosystems worldwide and is most pronounced in the Arctic physical environment. Economic development has been expanding leading to increased disturbances and pressures on Arctic wildlife. Identifying areas that support higher levels of predator abundance and biodiversity is important for the implementation of targeted conservation measures across the Arctic. We compiled the largest dataset of existing telemetry data for Arctic marine predators consisting of 1,282 individuals from 21 species, primarily within Canadian Arctic marine waters but also including parts of United States, Greenland and Russia.. Data were arranged into four species groups: 1) cetaceans and pinnipeds, 2) seabirds, 3) polar bears Ursus maritimus, and 4) fishes to address the following objectives: 1) identify abundance hotspots for each species group in the summer-autumn and winter-spring; 2) identify species diversity hotspots across all species groups; and 3) assess the extent of overlap of species diversity hotspots with existing protected areas. Abundance and species diversity hotpots during summer-autumn and winter-spring were identified in Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, Amundsen Gulf, and the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering seas both within and across species groups. Abundance and species diversity hotpots occurred nearshore and within the continental slope in summer-autumn and offshore in areas of moving pack-ice in winter-spring – both areas with oceanographic features that enhance productivity and foraging opportunities. The current level of conservation protection that overlapped species diversity hotspots was low covering only 3% (38,607 km2) in summer-autumn and <1% (3,061 km2) in winter-spring. We identified several areas of potential importance for Arctic marine predators that could provide policy makers with a starting point for expanding conservation measures given the multitude of threats facing the Arctic. These results are relevant to multilevel and multinational governance to protect this vulnerable ecosystem in our rapidly changing world and provides vital information into CAFF's policy recommendations on identifying and safeguarding important areas for biodiversity.


Arctic-breeding seabirds' hotspots in space and time: a framework for year-round modelling of abundance and environmental niche using SEATRACK data

Arnaud Tarroux, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research; Per Fauchald, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research; Vegard Sandøy Bråthen, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research; Sébastien Descamps, Norwegian Polar Institute; Morten Ekker, Norwegian Environment Agency; Hálfdán Helgi Helgasson, Norwegian Polar Institute; Benjamin Merkel, Norwegian Polar Institute; Børge Moe, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research; Hallvard Strøm, Norwegian Polar Institute

Recent changes in northern marine ecosystems emphasize the need to understand the spatial distribution of Arctic seabird species throughout their annual life cycle, particularly during the non-breeding period. In addition to climate-driven environmental changes, potential threats to Arctic seabirds include the direct effects of increased levels of anthropogenic activity in northern oceans. Tools aimed at both understanding current species distributions and predicting future changes in these distributions are essential elements of sound management policies focusing on biodiversity conservation and sustainable utilization of natural resources. Large-scale tracking of seabirds over extended periods of time can provide invaluable information about the whereabouts of long-ranging migratory species. Light loggers (geolocators) are tracking devices that allow determining the timing of sunrise and sunset, from which locations can be derived. These highly miniaturized loggers can be outfitted on small seabirds and collect data from many individuals over several years, thereby offering tremendous potential for use in large-scale, multispecies studies of animal spatial distributions. However, this comes at the cost of reduced precision and the inability to determine locations during certain periods (equinoxes, periods with continuous night/day). Here, we propose a methodological framework for modelling the spatiotemporal dynamics of the distribution and environmental niche of Arctic seabirds throughout the year. This framework relies on maximizing the use of all the information available in geolocator-derived datasets, while minimizing their intrinsic limitations. It involves several steps: 1) modelling movements during gap periods (bias reduction); 2) modelling of species environmental niches; 3) modelling of the species abundance over their entire range. We illustrate our approach using an extensive multi-species and -site dataset from the SEATRACK project that covers 8 years of tracking from 27 colonies in 5 countries. Geolocators were deployed between 2009 and 2017 on 6 pelagic seabirds (Little auk Alle alle, Brünnich guillemot Uria lomvia, Common guillemot Uria aalge, Atlantic puffin Fratercula arctica, Black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, and Northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis). The dataset, consisting primarily in positional data obtained from light loggers (geolocators), was complemented with site-specific population data, additional sensor data collected by the light loggers (temperature, activity), as well as environmental data obtained from satellite remote sensing (sea surface temperature, bathymetry, productivity, sea ice cover). The resulting abundance and environmental niche models are produced as raster images and constitute useful management and monitoring tools for large-scale projects of biodiversity conservation. Our framework could be applied to other positional datasets involving similar types of limitations.


Abundance and distribution of marine mammals wintering in the North Water and Northeast Water polynyas in Greenland

Rikke Guldborg Hansen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources

We investigate the abundance and spatial distribution of marine mammals wintering in 2 polynyas in Greenland (North Water (NOW) and Northeast Water (NEW)). To determine the abundance of marine mammals in the polynyas we conducted aerial surveys in April 2014 (NOW) and April 2017 (NEW). Visual aerial surveys involving double observer platforms were conducted over the eastern part of the North Water polynya in April 2014. Four species of marine mammals were included in strip-census estimation of abundance. Perception bias was addressed using a double-platform survey protocol, a Chapman mark–recapture estimator for whales, seals and walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) on ice and a mark–recapture distance sampling estimation technique for walruses in water. Availability bias was addressed by correcting abundance estimates by the percentage of time animals detected in water that were available for detection at the surface. Marine mammals in high numbers were observed in the NOW whereas the abundance of marine mammals in the NEW were low.


Arctic islands –biodiversity consequences of climate driven fragmentation of Arctic ecosystems

Fredrik Dalerum, University of Oviedo

Arctic ecosystems are characterized by a harsh climate and by low human population densities, as well as by harbouring relatively simple ecosystems. Since global warming appears to be most rapid in cold areas, we can expect it to have stronger ecological consequences in the Arctic as compared to boreal and temperate environments. Since a warmer climate may drive a northward expansion of more competitive warm adapted species, we expect that arctic species may be pushed further north than they are today. Such a process would mean that arctic species eventually could be marginalized to geographic or ecological islands, with highly fragmented ecosystems as a result. The marginal conditions in arctic environments have generated communities that consist of few species which are often weak competitors. Data from previous warming events suggest that many arctic species had relict distributions during the past inter-glacials. Past and present connectivity within arctic environments have thus played important roles in structuring arctic species communities. Recent work has highlighted the importance of the structure of species communities for their ecological function. The strong effects of connectivity on arctic community structure therefore suggest that the degree of isolation between animal and plant populations in arctic environments could have profound effects on local ecosystem processes and on the supply of ecosystem services. A better understanding of these effects will be crucial for the management of threatened Arctic ecosystems in the face of the new challenges posed by climate change. Indeed, addressing the consequences of climate change was identified as a priority research area in the 2013 Arctic Biodiversity Assessment, as was development of appropriate management of Arctic islands and other refugia to protect endemic arctic species. Such management and conservation will require robust knowledge about the ecological consequences of fragmentation and isolation. In the long-term research program “Arctic islands” we evaluate how a marginalization of arctic ecosystems influence their properties and their ability to deliver ecosystem services. We utilise a series of research expeditions along carefully selected circumpolar sites, mostly with one island and one mainland component. So far, we have visited north Greenland/Ellesmere Island (2015) and Wrangel Island/Chaun delta in Siberia (2017). We use a rigid sample protocol to monitor vascular plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals, as well as collect samples that allow for quantification of trophic interactions. In addition, we use modern genomic technology to infer past fragmentation processes.


What traits make species sensitive to climate change in northern ecosystems?

Pöyry, J., Aapala, K., Kemppainen, E., Punttila, P., Pykälä, J., Syrjänen, K. & Virkkala, R.

Traits of species are known to modulate species responses to climate change. However, previous studies on the subject have usually focused on a single species group (taxon) at a time. Here, we present an overview of results of an extensive literature survey focusing on the traits that make species sensitive to the impacts of both the observed and predicted impacts of climate change. We give also emphasis on traits that increase the adaptive capacity of species. Our survey covers multiple taxa and trophic levels from primary producers (vascular plants) to consumers (phytophagous insects and birds) and decomposers (polypores). Geographically our survey focuses on boreal and arctic regions in Northern Europe with additional information on similar environments elsewhere in northern hemisphere. We discuss implications of our results as regards potential adaptation measures for the conservation of biological diversity under warming climate. This presentation is linked to one of the three cross-cutting themes listed among the Congress goals: “The significance of climate change as the most serious underlying driver of overall change in biodiversity”. In addition, the project contributes to the implementation of the following Arctic Biodiversity Assessment policy recommendations: (2) “Incorporate resilience and adaptation of biodiversity to climate change into plans for development in the Arctic”; (5) “Advance the protection of large areas of ecologically important marine, terrestrial and freshwater habitats, taking into account ecological resilience in a changing climate”; (7) Develop and implement mechanisms that best safeguard Arctic biodiversity under changing environmental conditions, such as loss of sea ice, glaciers and permafrost; and (16) “Research and monitor individual and cumulative effects of stressors and drivers of relevance to biodiversity, with a focus on stressors that are expected to have rapid and significant impacts and issues where knowledge is lacking”.

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