Will Arctic mammals benefit from climate change?

A study using GBIF-mediated data on mammals in the far North of Europe challenges the expectation that species in high latitudes will suffer especially negative impacts from climate change.

GBIF-mediated data resources used : 61 mammal species modelled
Photo: Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus). Credit: Algkalv

Photo: Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus). Credit: Algkalv


This paper, by researchers from Umeå University in Sweden, suggests that climate change will favour most mammals currently occupying Arctic and subarctic Europe, so long as they are able to disperse to suitable areas. The conclusion runs contrary to the expectation that species in high latitudes will be especially susceptible to a warming climate.

Anouschka Hof, one of the presenters at the 2012 GBIF science symposium and lead author of this paper, together with Roland Jansson and Christer Nilsson, modelled future distributions for mammal species currently resident in the far North of Europe, as well as some potential colonizers from further South. Occurrence records for 61 species were gathered from national databases in Norway, Sweden and Finland, and from the GBIF data portal.

The results, based on climate scenarios for 2080, indicated that 43 out of the 61 species studied would expand and shift their ranges, mainly to the north-east, assuming they were fully able to disperse to suitable areas. Nevertheless, species specializing in alpine habitats, such as Arctic fox, Norway lemming and wolverine, would likely see their ranges contract. If the ability to disperse is severely limited, for example due to roads or industrial developments, most mammal species would lose range, but none is projected to become extinct due to climate change.

The study also predicts that the climate in Arctic and subarctic Europe will become suitable for ten more mammalian species, including eight bat species, and that the region is thus likely to become richer in mammal species. This may have unexpected consequences, such as a the coexistence of large predators threatening populations of prey species – for example, both the grey wolf and brown bear are projected to expand their range and affect the population of European roe deer.

The authors suggest that the reason for the relative stability of mammal species presence under projected climate might be that Arctic regions have experienced large climatic shifts in the past, filtering out sensitive and range-restricted species.



Hof, A.R., Jansson, R. & Nilsson, C., 2012. Future climate change will favour non-specialist mammals in the (sub)arctics. PloS one, 7(12), p.e52574. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23285098