The state of biodiversity in Arctic rivers and lakes

Wetlands, lakes and rivers are an important habitat for Arctic species

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The freshwater experts of the Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF) have released on February 2022, the largest compilation and assessment of Arctic freshwater biodiversity to date. Published in a special issue of the scientific journal Freshwater Biology, the scientists from the eight Arctic States provide a holistic view of ongoing change in Arctic lakes, streams, and associated wetlands. The compendium presents the scientific analyses that underlie CAFF’s 2019 State of the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity Report and offers important baseline information for future assessments and studies to better understand changing Arctic freshwater ecosystems. The special issue is available online free of cost.

Two CAFF experts release milestone assessment

Arctic freshwater ecosystems are a lifeline for Arctic inhabitants and animal species across the circumpolar North. Wetlands, lakes and rivers are an important habitat for Arctic species, and provide drinking water, food, and several other cultural, provisional, and supporting ecosystem services to Arctic inhabitants. Yet, these services are at risk as raising water temperatures, glacier retreat and thawing permafrost – to name a few climate-change-induced alterations – threaten the biodiversity and health of freshwater ecosystems, and in turn, the well-being of the people relying on them.

In 2019, CAFF published the State of the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity Report, which provided a first circumpolar synthesis of the state of knowledge about biodiversity in Arctic freshwater ecosystems. CAFF’s Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP) Freshwater Group assessed the current status and trends of freshwater biodiversity across the Arctic and identified key threats, knowledge gaps and advice for future monitoring.

Now, the group has released the scientific analyses that underlie the 2019 report in a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Freshwater Biology. The expert team has undertaken a large international effort to compile and analyze a database of Arctic freshwater monitoring data including contemporary and historical data from more than 9000 stations across the Arctic. The result is a comprehensive compendium of 13 topical papers that address different aspects of ecological changes occurring in Arctic ponds, lakes, streams and rivers both on the regional and circumpolar level.

Lake Hazen, the world’s biggest Arctic.
Credit: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. Author Ansgar Walk

“Arctic freshwater systems are already highly threatened by climate change and human development, but until now we have been unable to assess these changes extensively due to a lack of coordinated monitoring,” said Prof. Willem Goedkopp from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and co-author of the special issue. “Our assessment, for example, shows that we can expect long-term shifts in the population of some key species, altered nutrient levels and changes in the overall water quality. These changes can have large implications for the biodiversity and food webs of Arctic freshwaters,” he added.

In addition, the special issue includes a systematic review of published Indigenous Knowledge, which adds valuable insights to assessing and conserving Arctic freshwaters further. While Indigenous Peoples possess a vast and unique knowledge of Arctic freshwater systems, few attempts have been made to summarise existing records of this knowledge, as the authors state in their introduction to the special issue.

“This special issue represents a milestone that provides key insights to biodiversity trends and factors altering Arctic freshwater ecosystems. It will be an important resource for researchers, policy makers, as well as Indigenous Peoples and local communities, to support future assessments of ecosystem change and the conservation of these ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity and affect in many ways human well-being”, stated CAFF Chair, Dr. Mia Rönkä.

Established in 1996, the Arctic Council is at the forefront of Arctic cooperation. In its first 25 years it has become the most important body for promoting a positive agenda and coordinating joint action on all vital issues in the region. The Arctic Council focuses on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

CAFF is the biodiversity Working Group of the Arctic Council and consists of national representatives assigned by each of the eight Council States, representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations that are Permanent Participants to the Council, and Arctic Council Observer countries and organizations.

The special issue “Ecological Change in Arctic Freshwaters” of Freshwater Biology was published in January 2022 and is freely accessible on the journal’s website:

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