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Circumpolar status of Arctic ptarmigan: Population dynamics and trends


Rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) and willow ptarmigan (L. lagopus) are Arctic birds with a circumpolar distribution but there is limited knowledge about their status and trends across their circumpolar distribution. Here, we compiled information from 90 ptarmigan study sites from 7 Arctic countries, where almost half of the sites are still monitored. Rock ptarmigan showed an overall negative trend on Iceland and Greenland, while Svalbard and Newfoundland had positive trends, and no significant trends in Alaska. For willow ptarmigan, there was a negative trend in mid-Sweden and eastern Russia, while northern Fennoscandia, North America and Newfoundland had no significant trends. Both species displayed some periods with population cycles (short 3–6 years and long 9–12 years), but cyclicity changed through time for both species. We propose that simple, cost-efficient systematic surveys that capture the main feature of ptarmigan population dynamics can form the basis for citizen science efforts in order to fill knowledge gaps for the many regions that lack systematic ptarmigan monitoring programs.

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We thank multiple field workers that participated in the ptarmigan data collections, researchers that gave information on study sites not included in the present analysis, specifically K. Christie, C. Braun, S. Ebbert, I. Pokrovsky, D. Ehrich, A. Sokolov, N. Sokolov, the Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring Program for access to ecosystem data from Zackenberg, and Oddveig Ø. Ørvoll, Norwegian Polar Institute for graphical design of maps.

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Correspondence to Eva Fuglei.

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Fuglei, E., Henden, J., Callahan, C.T. et al. Circumpolar status of Arctic ptarmigan: Population dynamics and trends. Ambio 49, 749–761 (2020).

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  • Arctic
  • Climate change
  • Ecosystems
  • Lagopus spp.
  • Population cycles
  • Transient dynamics