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Overwintering of terrestrial Arctic arthropods: the fauna of Svalbard now and in the future

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There are over 500 species of arthropods recorded from Svalbard. These animals overwinter either within the soil or on the ground surface, and have to tolerate an environment where the ground is frozen for over 9 months each year. Three cold-tolerance strategies have been described from Svalbard invertebrates: freeze avoidance, freeze tolerance and desiccation. Once in a cold-tolerant state the animals can be extremely cold tolerant in terms of both minimum exposure temperature and period of exposure. How the overwintering capabilities of these animals will be affected by climate changes during the next 100 years, as predicted by climate models, is not yet known. Four principle factors with an impact on overwintering of the terrestrial arthropod fauna are outlined here: (1) warmer winter temperatures, with an increased frequency of extreme events such as freeze–thaw cycles and surface icing; (2) changes in snow fall and snow lie; (3) pollutant load; and (4) dispersal of invertebrates to Svalbard. Finally, areas where further research is required are highlighted: including the development of controlled multi-season field experiments; effect of freeze–thaw cycles; changes in thickness and distribution of snow lie, with the subsequent effects on duration of the summer period; chill susceptibility of soil arthropods; assessing potential colonizing species and the likelihood of these species becoming established; assessing the effect of gene flow from surrounding populations; interactions between pollution and cold tolerance; anoxia stress; and the genetics of cold tolerance.

Keywords: Arthropoda; Collembola; Svalbard; freeze avoidance; freeze tolerance; protective dehydration

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Arctic Biology, University Centre in Svalbard, PO Box 156, NO-9171 Longyearbyen, Norway 2: Department of Biology, University of Bergen, PO Box 7800, NO-5200 Bergen, Norway 3: Department of Arctic Geophysics, University Centre in Svalbard, PO Box 156, NO-9171 Longyearbyen, Norway

Publication date: 2010-04-01

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