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 Press Releases

UH: The change in Arctic nature foreshadows the global environment of the future

Author: Kirsikka.Mattila 09/11/2009 11:42 AM

University of Helsinki
Communications / Viikki Science Campus
11 September 2009

The change in Arctic nature foreshadows the global environment of the

In Arctic areas, climate change is progressing faster than in any other
location on Earth. Researchers at the University of Helsinki have
participated in two new studies indicating that the changes are
astonishingly fast. Many original species of Arctic areas are in jeopardy,
as global warming causes species from southern areas to migrate north,
where they occupy the living space of the original species.

The renowned Science magazine will publish a joint article by 25
researchers specialising in Arctic ecology. Olivier Gilg, researcher at
the Faculty of Biosciences at the University of Helsinki, is one of the
article?s contributing authors. The article was written under the
supervision of Eric Post, professor at Penn State University.

The study results presented in the article indicate that the Arctic
eco-system has experienced immense changes in the last twenty years. At
many levels, the changes impact the eco-system services that the
environment provides for people: the effects extend to the adequacy of
natural resources, food production, climate temperature, and result in
changes to the landscape. The changes in the northern nature can be
interpreted as an advance warning of what is to be expected on all

Arctic foxes and northern birch areas are in trouble

The results show that spring begins considerably sooner than before. The
blossoming and pollination period of plants starts as much as twenty days
sooner in comparison to the situation ten years ago. Predators are in dire
straits because nutrition is now available too soon in relation to the
otherwise favourable nesting period. The distribution of many insects has
moved even more north. European winter moths, for example, have destroyed
extensive birch areas in Lapland after moving north. Species invading new
areas might supersede the original species in the area ? this is already
happening to Arctic foxes, which are currently being overrun by red foxes.

Ivory gulls, ringed seals, polar bears and narwhals are examples of
species with a small distribution and specialised habitats, and such
species will be the first ones to suffer from the changes. They need the
ice in seas to procreate and to find shelter from predators.

A publication concerning the indirect impact of climate change

Climate change also has indirect effects that appear in the interaction
between different species. Olivier Gilg and academy professor Ilkka Hanski
from the University of Helsinki have teamed up with Benoît Sittler, a
researcher from the University of Freiburg, and studied the waning of the
previously cyclical population dynamics of the collared lemming in
Greenland. The results will be published in the journal Global Change
Biology at the end of the year.

With mathematical models, the researchers showed that the drastic change
in the population dynamics of collared lemmings is explained by the fact
that snow melts sooner than before:the lemmings do not procreate as long as
before below the snow, and are
also easier for predators to hunt. In addition,
frost-melt events in
winter form ice layers in the snow layer or at the tundra's surface,
is why the lemmings are unable to find food like they used to.

Additional information:

Ilkka Hanski, Academy Professor
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of
Helsinki, tel. + 358 9 191 57745,

Dr Olivier Gilg

Best regards,

Kirsikka Mattila
PR & Press Officer

University of Helsinki
Viikki Campus
PO Box 62 (Viikinkaari 11)
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki
phone +358-9-191 58791
mobile +358 50 406 2046