Svalbard's land-based ecosystems
Compared with many other tundra ecosystems in similar climate zones, Svalbard's food web has relatively low complexity, and certain typical Arctic key species and food chains are not present.
The main cause of this is the archipelago's isolated geographical location, possibly combined with specific climatic conditions. Svalbard reindeer and the Svalbard rock ptarmigan, both endemic species, and two species of migratory geese (the pink-footed goose and the barnacle goose) are the most important herbivores on Svalbard. The predator/scavenger group is also species-poor, with the most important species being Arctic fox and glaucous gull, species which also largely exploit food from the sea. Marine inputs (in the form of both nutrients and energy) into ecosystems on land are more distinct in Svalbard's coastal areas than in many other high-arctic regions.
Migratory passerines (for example the snow bunting) and waders (for example purple sandpipers) increase biodiversity and prey availability in the summer season. In contrast to what is found in most other tundra food webs, small herbivorous mammals (rodents and hares) and specialised predators are largely absent from Svalbard. There is however a local population of the southern vole which is limited to the area around the bird cliff at Grumant, Nordenskiöld Land. This rodent population supports an important parasite (Echinococcus multilocularis) which is transferable from animals to humans .
Research into biodiversity covers a range of fields (such as cellular and molecular biology, physiology, ecology, behavioural biology, conservation biology, taxonomy and evolution) and different trophic levels (from viruses and bacteria to large mammals).
Regarding ecosystems, more knowledge is required about their structures and functions, and the effect of the different types of impacts, both natural and anthropogenic, they are subjected to. This presupposes an awareness of how and why the numbers and distribution of species and populations vary.
Norway has a policy goal of environmental management being ecosystem-based, i.e. that the management of human activities is based on the framework that the ecosystem defines for the maintenance of its structure, functioning and production.
Any pressure on an ecosystem should consequently be assessed on the basis of the cumulative environmental effects on the ecosystem now and in the future, in the light of coherences in the ecosystems and their functioning.
- SEATRACK (Seabird Tracking)
- Ecosystem dynamics in a high-Arctic pack ice environment (N-ICE)
- Climate ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra (COAT)
- Sustainable management of renewable resources in a changing environment: an integrated approach across ecosystems (SUSTAIN)
Latest articles on biodiversity
Master thesis project on arctic ecotoxicology – Pollutant effects in walruses
The Norwegian Polar Institute and UiT The Arctic University of Norway are looking for a student to a master thesis project that will examine contaminant related health effects in walruses from Svalbard. Walrus samples will be analyzed for pollutants, hormone levels and immunological responses. In addition they will be analyzed for mRNA expression of genes related to hormone disruption and immune suppression.
Polar bears in Svalbard in good condition – so far
The Norwegian Polar Institute has carried out a counting of polar bears in Svalbard. The results show that there are probably more polar bears than the last time the bears were counted.