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Nonlinear trends in abundance and diversity and complex responses to climate change in Arctic arthropods

New publication by Toke T. Høye, M. Koltz, Mark A. K. Gillespie, Joseph J. Bowden, and Niels M. Schmidt


Time series data on arthropod populations are critical for understanding the magnitude, direction, and drivers of change. However, most arthropod monitoring programs are short-lived and restricted in taxonomic resolution. Monitoring data from the Arctic are especially underrepresented, yet critical to uncovering and understanding some of the earliest biological responses to rapid environmental change. Clear imprints of climate on the behavior and life history of some Arctic arthropods have been demonstrated, but a synthesis of population-level abundance changes across taxa is lacking. We utilized 24 y of abundance data from Zackenberg in High-Arctic Greenland to assess trends in abundance and diversity and identify potential climatic drivers of abundance changes. Unlike findings from temperate systems, we found a nonlinear pattern, with total arthropod abundance gradually declining during 1996 to 2014, followed by a sharp increase. Family-level diversity showed the opposite pattern, suggesting increasing dominance of a small number of taxa. Total abundance masked more complicated trajectories of family-level abundance, which also frequently varied among habitats. Contrary to expectation in this extreme polar environment, winter and fall conditions and positive density-dependent feedbacks were more common determinants of arthropod dynamics than summer temperature. Together, these data highlight the complexity of characterizing climate change responses even in relatively simple Arctic food webs. Our results underscore the need for data reporting beyond overall trends in biomass or abundance and for including basic research on life history and ecology to achieve a more nuanced understanding of the sensitivity of Arctic and other arthropods to global changes.