Climate change leads to Arctic food shortages

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Warming in the European Arctic has caused not only sea ice to melt and temperature to increase but also Atlantic waters to advance towards higher latitudes.

The MarBEF ArctEco project showed how Atlantic water coming from a biologically diverse marine region (Norwegian Sea, Norwegian and British shelf) introduces additional species to the relatively species-poor Arctic.

The pelagic herbivores (e.g., krill) from the relatively warm Atlantic water are typically smaller than the cold-water Arctic herbivore species. Naturally, top predators of the Arctic (sea birds, seals, whales) feed efficiently on these relatively large herbivores, often without any intermediate small predators between the herbivores and the top predators. Warming causes large Arctic herbivores to be replaced by smaller Atlantic species, thus reducing the food resources available to the top predators.

In the warming Arctic, primary production is utilised by smaller, faster-growing species. Additionally, small carnivores are becoming more diversified and numerous, which is dissipating the energy flow considerably. Therefore warming effects lead to higher biodiversity in the Arctic and simultaneous food shortages for the top predators.[1]

Energy flow scheme showing the typical short-and-efficient food chain of the Arctic (top) compared to the situation in the warmed Sub-Arctic (bottom).

See Also

Predicted biodiversity changes in the Arctic