Ecosystem Services
Reindeer herding
ReindeerThe most productive semi-domestic reindeer herds occur in northern Fennoscandia and northwest Russia. Herd sizes here have been increasing since World War II and are currently at or near historic highs. While many rangelands across northern Eurasia are in poor condition because of high reindeer densities, it is unclear whether this is affecting herd performance. The relationship between reindeer herding and local biodiversity is similarly complex, where grazing by reindeer may either increase or decrease the variety of plant species in a given area, and in some regions may even be an important factor in regional biodiversity. In addition to climate change, reindeer herding in Fennoscandia is threatened by increased resource development, and in Russia, hydrocarbon development is actually considered a greater threat to the most productive herding areas than climate change.
Seabird harvest
SeabirdSeabirds have been harvested by humans in the circumpolar Arctic for centuries for their meat, eggs, skins, and down. Harvesting is a significant factor in the population size of many species, and there are examples of overharvesting causing substantial losses in some populations, as well as rapid recovery following major changes to harvest regulations. Currently, harvest levels in the Arctic are tending to decline due to factors such as stricter hunting regulations, declining seabird populations, fewer or less active hunters, or a combination of these. In some areas, harvests for several species have declined by 50% or more. The number of birds harvested varies considerably between countries, from less than 5,000 in Norway to 250,000 in each of Canada, Greenland, and Iceland. For some species, climate change can be a serious threat to the sustainable use of seabird populations in the future, especially if the availability of important food sources is affected. The migratory nature of seabirds means international cooperation is vital for their conservation.
Changes in harvest
ChangesHarvesting natural resources continues to be a key feature of traditional lifestyles and economies across the Arctic. In Alaska, subsistence harvest accounts for a small proportion (about 2–3%) of the total fish and wildlife harvest, compared with 97% taken by commercial fisheries. While no systematic statewide survey of the status of subsistence harvests has been conducted, there are indications that subsistence harvests by rural Alaskans are declining across space and time. Development impacts, environmental and ecological changes, socio-economic changes, changing tastes, in- and out-migration, and harvests by competing user groups likely all adversely affect subsistence harvests. In Canada, up to 60% of residents in small communities in the Northwest Territories rely on traditional/ country food for the majority of their meat and fish. This percentage has remained largely unchanged over the last ten years. By comparison, subsistence harvesting in the Russian Arctic has been affected by the widespread socio-economic changes following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The overall area where natural resources are harvested has been reduced, although subsistence consumption around indigenous communities has increased. Illegal harvesting and trade in valuable species also increased as law enforcement declined, leading to localized depletion of some resources.
Changes in protected areas
Changes2Protected areas are a key element for maintaining and conserving both Arctic and global biodiversity, protecting important habitat for resident and migratory species. The first protected areas in the Arctic were established at the beginning of the 20th century although the area under protection remained low until the 1970s. The extent of the Arctic which is under some form of protected status doubled between 1991 and 2010, from 5.6% to 11%. There are now 1,127 protected areas covering 3.5 million km2 of the Arctic. Climate change is a significant challenge to protected areas as a conservation tool because the features protected today may be altered or lost in the future. Implementing sound environmental conservation measures both within and beyond the boundaries of protected areas will be important to biodiversity conservation. This is particularly important in marine ecosystems where the level of protection is lower in comparison to terrestrial ecosystems.
Linguistic diversity
LinguisticMuch important traditional knowledge of biodiversity and its uses is embedded within indigenous languages, yet Arctic languages face an uncertain future. Twenty languages have become extinct since the 1800s, with ten of these extinctions taking place after 1990. Of these extinctions, one was in Finland, one in Canada, one in Alaska, and seventeen in the Russian Arctic. The remaining Arctic indigenous languages are decreasing in vitality as the number of speakers decreases. Only four out of 44 languages surveyed displayed either no change or an increase in absolute number of speakers and proportion of speakers. The increasing rate of language extinction emphasizes the need to increase our understanding of the cultures and traditions contained within these languages, and to increase efforts aimed at revitalizing them.