, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 227-238

Climate-driven changes in pollinator assemblages during the last 60 years in an Arctic mountain region in Northern Scandinavia

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Abstract

Climate change is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic than elsewhere, and is predicted to have a large impact on biodiversity, since entire cold-adapted ecosystems are likely to disappear. Here, we highlight changes in the insect species richness and community composition of wild bees, butterflies and moths over 60 years in an area situated above the tree limit (Padjelanta National Park) in northern Sweden. Although there were changes in habitat availability, indicated by a significant decrease in the area of a glacier (from 22 km2 in 1898 to 7.5 km2 in 2009), and an increase in the area of birch forest in the National Park, we nevertheless found relatively moderate changes in the insect communities. Indeed, the observed number of species increased from 52 in 1944 to 64 in 2008. Remarkably, the mean number of butterflies and moths per site, but not wild bee species, increased significantly. Among the species that were recorded in both periods, the average altitude of 17 species had shifted downhill, 12 shifted uphill, and the altitude of the remaining 17 had not changed. While alterations in community composition were greater at the highest altitudes, changes in the insect community were smaller than expected, indeed much smaller than those reported from agricultural landscapes in North-West Europe. Interestingly, our results suggest that lower alpine altitudes (600–800 m a.s.l.) have become colonized by southern species, but also that high alpine areas (above 1,000 m a.s.l.) have recently become colonized by high alpine species previously absent from these sites, likely as a result of increasing habitat availability. We conclude that wild bee, butterfly, and moth communities in Arctic areas in northern Sweden are in flux, as a result of climate change and suggest that increased attention must be given to conservation planning in cold areas. In addition, we propose that monitoring programs should be established, because more pronounced climate-driven changes can be expected in the future.