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Drivers of inter-annual variation and long-term change in High-Arctic spider species abundances

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Understanding how species abundances vary in space and time is a central theme in ecology, yet there are few long-term field studies of terrestrial invertebrate abundances and the determinants of their dynamics. This is particularly relevant in the context of rapid climate change occurring in the Arctic. Arthropods can serve as strong indicators of ecosystem change due to their sensitivity to increasing temperatures and other environmental variables. We used spider samples collected by pitfall trapping from three different habitats (fen, mesic and arid heath) in High-Arctic Greenland to assess changes in individual species abundances over an 18-year period (1996–2014). We calculated annual abundances of each species using a conventional method and compared this to a technique that corrected for the influence of short-term weather variation on arthropod activity. The latter method used the area under the curve of a fitted generalized additive model to measure annual change in abundance of each species. Abundances calculated using each of the two methods did not differ greatly over time nor in direction of climate effects, suggesting that short-term weather-driven activity does not influence interpretation of long-term trends. We used model selection to determine which climatic variables and/or previous years’ abundance best explained annual variation in species abundances over this period. We identified and used 28 566 adult spiders that comprised eight species. Most notably, the abundances of some species (Collinsia thulensis and Erigone psychrophila) have declined during this 18-year period, in response to rising temperatures and snow depth dynamics, which affected snowmelt timing and moisture availability. No species increased in abundance through the study period. Since some species showed no trend in abundance through time and climatic effects were habitat-specific, continued climate change may also affect local species interactions. Long-term monitoring programmes are an extremely valuable means through which to generate empirical data about changes in populations and communities; this is especially pertinent in the Arctic, where climate change is occurring at a rapid rate.

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We would like to thank the Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring Programme, especially BioBasis and ClimateBasis, for access to specimens and climate data, respectively, from Zackenberg, Northeast Greenland. We thank the Natural History Museum Aarhus for access to the Zackenberg collection and use of laboratory facilities. We are also grateful for much helpful feedback from anonymous reviewers and the handling editor.

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Author contributions

JJB, OLPH and TTH conceptualized the ideas; JJB identified specimens and generated data; JJB, TTH and OLPH analysed the data; JJB wrote the paper; JJB, OLPH, KO, NMS and TTH contributed to data interpretation, article revision and final approval; NMS was responsible for the collection of specimens under Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring Programme and KO curated all specimens at the Natural History Museum Aarhus.

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Correspondence to Joseph J. Bowden.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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This article belongs to the special issue on the “Ecology of tundra arthropods” coordinated by Toke T. Høye and Lauren E. Culler.

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Bowden, J.J., Hansen, O.L.P., Olsen, K. et al. Drivers of inter-annual variation and long-term change in High-Arctic spider species abundances. Polar Biol 41, 1635–1649 (2018).

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