Intactness is a commonly used measure of ecological integrity, especially when evaluating conservation status at the landscape scale. We argue that in the large and relatively unfragmented landscapes of the Arctic and sub-Arctic, intactness provides only partial insight for managers charged with maintaining ecological integrity. A recent landscape assessment suggests that 95% of Alaska shows no measured direct or indirect impacts of human development on the landscape. However, the current exceptionally high levels of intactness in Alaska, and throughout the Arctic and sub-Arctic, do not adequately reflect impacts to the region’s ecological integrity caused by indirect stressors, such as a rapidly changing climate and the subsequent loss of the cryosphere. Thus, it can be difficult to measure, and manage, some of the conservation challenges presented by the ecological context of these systems. The dominant drivers of change, and their associated ecological and socioeconomic impacts, vary as systems decline in ecological integrity from very high to high, and to intermediate levels, but this is not well understood in the literature. Arctic and sub-Arctic systems, as well as other large intact areas, provide unique opportunities for conservation planning, but require tools and approaches appropriate to unfragmented landscapes undergoing rapid climate-driven ecological transformation. We conclude with possible directions for developing more appropriate metrics for measuring ecological integrity in these systems.
Trammell, E. Jamie; Carlson, Matthew L.; Reynolds, Joel H.; Taylor, Jason J.; Schmidt, Niels M. 2022. Ecological integrity and conservation challenges in a rapidly changing Arctic: A call for new approaches in large intact landscapes. Ambio. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-022-01756-6.