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Pacific Northwest Research Station biologist helps Norway identify effects of stressors on Arctic wildlife and systems

Map showing location of Svalbard, Norway.

PORTLAND – Bruce Marcot, a research wildlife biologist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, was asked by the Norwegian Polar Institute to share details of his work modeling stressors on global polar bear populations. The institute then invited Marcot to visit Norway -- specifically, Svalbard and Tromsø -- to work on developing Bayesian network models projecting effects of stressors on Arctic wildlife and systems to help with travel management planning.

The Norwegian Polar Institute is Norway’s central governmental institution for research, mapping and environmental monitoring in both the Arctic and Antarctic. The institute assists Norwegian authorities with issues in polar environmental management.

This new research project, based on Spitsbergen, the largest of the Svalbard islands, focuses on developing decision-advisory risk-analysis models to assess current and future effects of various stressors on selected Arctic wildlife species and ecosystems. The Spitsbergen landscape features broad fjords, extensive glacial plains and rugged mountains that rise steeply from the valley floors. The models are intended to advise resource planners on the potential need to implement further controls on shipping, tourism, hiking, vehicle and snowmobile traffic to help sustain vulnerable wildlife and ecosystems in the region.

From left, Morten Wedege, head of Environmental Protection Department, Office of the Governor of Svalbard, Norway, Bruce Marcot, research wildlife biologist of Pacific Northwest Research Station, and Dag Vongraven, senior advisor, Norwegian Polar Institute, Ministry of Climate and Environment, discussing application to regional planning of Marcot's science models projecting current and projected impacts of climate change, human activities and environmental conditions on wildlife species and ecosystems. USDA Forest Service photo.

Objectives are to develop Bayesian network stressor models to provide a probability-based evaluation of human and climate impacts on habitats and other environmental conditions. Key seabird and mammal species such as polar bears, Atlantic walrus, Svalbard reindeer, ivory gulls and other seabirds are included because of their conservation needs and importance to ecotourism industries. This work marks a major point of collaboration between the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment and USDA Forest Service Research and Development.

Work by Marcot and his Norwegian colleagues will also inform other ongoing projects that pertain to projecting climate change and stressor effects on at-risk, vulnerable and listed species in the Western United States, at locations that include Fort Wainwright, a U.S. Army base near Fairbanks, Alaska and the nearby Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest. Although interior Alaskan ecosystems are different, the challenges align when a risk-analysis framework is used to project impacts of climate, human and environmental stressors.  Eventually, both projects will provide a major new understanding of impending changes in arctic and subarctic environments, with implications for our temperate world.

The glacial outwash plain of Adventdalen (Arrival Valley), inland from Adventfjorden (Arrival Fjord) that empties into Isfjorden (Ice Fjord), on the island of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian high Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The land here is mostly moss-lichen tundra that is vulnerable to climate change coupled with impacts of human activities and wildlife grazing. Increased winter rains cause icing over the vegetation that can starve Svalbard reindeer. USDA Forest Service photo.