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Arctic aliens: mitigating invasive species

The introduction of new species to isolated ecosystems with a low species diversity is always problematic and often catastrophic, as anyone know who is following the development on sub-antarctic islands such as South Georgia. In the Arctic, the problem is at least a bit less dramatic than on sub-antarctic islands. There are several reasons: flora and fauna are already to some degree adapted to plant-eating animals and predators, respectively. Secondly, the natural introduction of new species by winds and currents is much more common in the Arctic, which is a main reason why it has much more animal and plant species than remote islands in the deep south, where latitudinal winds and currents isolate them rather than connecting them to warmer areas.

But the problem of invasive species is nevertheless to be taken very seriously also in the high north. There is already a number of alien species in Spitsbergen, which has a long history of exploration, mining etc., during which plants and animals were imported with building materials, animal feed and other cargo. Species that might be especially problematic for the natural diversity of species include cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), which is thriving in Barentsburg, and the southern vole (Microtus levis). The fact that the southern vole lives happily in places like Grumantbyen and Colesbukta, which have been abandoned as mining settlements half a century ago, indicates that not much may be needed in terms of adaptation or climate warming to make it spread over large areas so far unaffected.

Now the local administration (Sysselmannen) has decided to do something about it. This has taken surprisingly long, considering what can be learnt from efforts to remove invasive species from sub-antarctic islands.

The need to prevent new invasive species from coming to Spitsbergen is evident. Cargo and ballast water of ships will need attention to achieve this. Also, studies have shown that a surprising amount of seeds and organic material comes attached to boots of flight passengers arriving Longyearbyen. As a consequence, the governor will request future visitors to make sure they do not transport unwanted organic materials by accident. This is already common practice in Antarctica.

Attempts should also be made to remove invasive species that are already there. If this is not possible, then their further dispersal should be controlled.

To start this process, the Sysselmannen has now published a report to describe the problem and to identify appropriate measures.

Simple, but effective: clean your boots!

Boot cleaning

Source: Sysselmannen

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last modification: 2014-07-01 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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