Climate change impacts on wildlife in a High Arctic archipelago – Svalbard, Norway
The Arctic is warming more rapidly than other region on the planet, and the northern Barents Sea, including the Svalbard Archipelago, is experiencing the fastest temperature increases within the circumpolar Arctic, along with the highest rate of sea ice loss. These physical changes are affecting a broad array of resident Arctic organisms as well as some migrants that occupy the region seasonally. Herein, evidence of climate change impacts on terrestrial and marine wildlife in Svalbard is reviewed, with a focus on bird and mammal species. In the terrestrial ecosystem, increased winter air temperatures and concomitant increases in the frequency of ‘rain-on-snow’ events are one of the most important facets of climate change with respect to impacts on flora and fauna. Winter rain creates ice that blocks access to food for herbivores and synchronizes the population dynamics of the herbivore–predator guild. In the marine ecosystem, increases in sea temperature and reductions in sea ice are influencing the entire food web. These changes are affecting the foraging and breeding ecology of most marine birds and mammals and are associated with an increase in abundance of several temperate fish, seabird and marine mammal species. Our review indicates that even though a few species are benefiting from a warming climate, most Arctic endemic species in Svalbard are experiencing negative consequences induced by the warming environment. Our review emphasizes the tight relationships between the marine and terrestrial ecosystems in this High Arctic archipelago. Detecting changes in trophic relationships within and between these ecosystems requires long-term (multidecadal) demographic, population- and ecosystem-based monitoring, the results of which are necessary to set appropriate conservation priorities in relation to climate warming.