June 12, 2001 The remoteness of one of the world's largest ecosystems has not made it immune from global environmental problems, according to a major new report on the state of Arctic biodiversity, funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
"Arctic Flora and Fauna: Status and Conservation" was released today in Finland by the Arctic Council's working group for the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF). The report includes contributions from more than 150 specialists and experts throughout the Arctic.
"Many scientists or groups of specialists have looked at parts of the Arctic or at different species, but until now no one has taken a comprehensive look at the state of the entire Arctic," said Sune Sohlberg of Sweden, who chairs the CAFF working group. "Thanks to this report, we now have a better idea of conservation needs around the circumpolar region."
At the local level, the report argues, there is clear evidence that several economically-important species have been exploited, and habitat has been fragmented due to development activities.
It adds that climate change is already having measurable effects on Arctic species, permafrost, and sea ice; alien invasive species are increasingly penetrating the region; and contaminants released thousands of kilometers away are appearing at high levels in human and wildlife communities.
The report also highlights the lack of critical information in many areas. Population figures for plants and animals may be uncertain, and the scientific understanding of the ways the Arctic ecosystem functions in changing environment is incomplete. However, these population figures provide a baseline for later research and monitoring data.
The report was developed over a two-year period and funded in part by a $56,000 grant from NSF's division of environmental biology. Based on the latest scientific information, the book-length report provides a clear understanding of the importance of the Earth's largest eco-region and its status in a rapidly changing world.
Henry Huntington, the lead U.S. researcher and chief writer on the editorial team, called it "more a starting point than a final report." He added, "finding and compiling data on species populations and other basic parameters was harder than we had expected. I hope the Arctic Council will build on our work, both through further research that takes a circumpolar perspective and through actions that respond to the threats identified in the report."
Using plain language and numerous maps, diagrams and photographs, the report is designed to be accessible to both scientists and non-scientists. By bringing together local and regional information, it paints a circumpolar picture of the status and trends in Arctic flora and fauna, including information on population sizes and changes, and a list of globally threatened species in the Arctic.
The report was compiled by an international editorial team under the direction of Paula Kankaanpää of the Finnish Ministry of Environment and the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi. Funding for preparing and publishing the report came from a variety of sources around the Arctic, including NSF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Following presentation of the report to the Arctic Council's senior arctic officials today, CAFF will develop specific recommendations for action, which are expected to be delivered to the Arctic Council's next ministerial meeting in fall 2002. These recommendations will likely chart the course of CAFF's work for the next several years, and are expected to be used by other organizations interested in Arctic conservation.
The Arctic Council is an intergovenmnetal forum that provides a mechanism to address common concerns and challenges faced by the Arctic governments and the people of the Arctic. It was established in 1996 in Ottawa, Canada.
Council members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States of America. The Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Saami Council, the Aleutian International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council and Gwich'in Council International are Permanent Participants in the Council.
For more information about the Arctic Council, see: http://www.arctic-council.org For more information on the Arctic Council's Program for the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, see: http://www.grida.no/caff.
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