Introduction

ArctEco aims at producing a conceptual model of the effect of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in the Arctic. ArctEco will compile and disseminate taxonomic knowledge on Arctic areas.

The ongoing climate change is manifested clearly in the European Arctic, around the Svalbard archipelago. Rapid retreat of tidal glaciers, increase of sediment supply and coastal change on the one hand and advance of boreal-atlantic species and communities on the other hand creates new physical and biological conditions for the functioning of coastal fjordic ecosystems. One of the observed biological consequences is retreat of species poor, local arctic fauna and flora and advance of species rich atlantic communities. The overall species pool in the boreal fauna is higher as well as the number of species per functional group, when compared to local assemblages. To test the structural and functional effect of this difference two contrasting sites have been chosen: cold water, Arctic, Hornsund fjord and warm water Kongsfjorden. Both fjords have been selected as BIOMARE European Biodiversity Research Sites, having appropriate facilities and strong commitment of research institutes.

In open water areas, the extent and thickness of sea ice is a driving factor in the food web structure and ecosystem function, and this shows considerable inter-annual and cyclical variation. In periods of thick ice cover, much of the primary production is in the form of dense aggregations of ice algae, which has been observed to fall to the sea floor, favouring benthos and benthic feeders, such as benthic fish and walrus. During periods of thin ice, or open water, phytoplankton drive the system, with a consequent bloom in pelagic feeders, such as zooplankton and polar cod. We test these hypotheses in the waters around Svalbard.

There are six scientific objectives:

  1. compile and disseminate taxonomic knowledge for Arctic areas
  2. analyse biodiversity trends in different biogeographic/glacial regimes within the Arctic
  3. analyse ecosystem dynamics in the Arctic under varying climatic conditions
  4. produce a conceptual model of cascade effects caused by environmental change
  5. conduct a range of practical workshops in taxonomy and data integration
  6. disseminate information via web pages/ other media.

ArctEco: Biodiversity and ecosystem function under changing climatic conditions the Arctic as a model system is a Responsive Mode Project undertaken within the MarBEF EU Network of Excellence, funded under the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Union
Principal investigators: Jan Marcin Weslawski and Sabine Cochrane
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