Participants at the Invertebrates of Svalbard workshop. UNIS March 2011

Invertebrate research in Svalbard

Terrestrial invertebrate research commenced in Svalbard in the mid-19th century with the expeditions of Boheman and Holmgren. Since then around 600 scientific articles have appeared discussing such themes as the biogeography, population dynamics and physiology of these animals.

The current inventory cites some 1,100 names (current list available here). Note that this checklist is under constant revision.

Such work is only possible via the collaboration of invertebrate ecologists and taxonomists from many countries. Picture illustrates the participants at the terrestrial invertebrate workshop held at UNIS in March 2011. From left to right: Peter Convey (U.K.), Elise Biersma (Netherlands), Arne Fjellberg (Norway), Torstein Solhøy (Norway), Maria Luisa Avila-Jimenez (Norway), Elisabeth Stur (Norway), Willem De Smet (Belgium), Natalia Lebedeva (Russia), Olga Makarova (Russia), Nastasia Taskaeva (Russia), Anatoly Babenko (Russia), Elena Melekhina (Russia), Dariusz Gwiazdowicz (Poland), Hanne Eik Pilskog (Norway), Anja Carlsson (U.K.), Kirsten Christoffersen (Denmark), Katarzyna Zmudczynska (Poland), Leopold Fuereder (Austria), Kristine Maraldo (Denmark), John Brittain (Norway), Sigmund Hågvar (Norway), Hanna-Laisa Lakka (Finland), Steve Coulson (Norway), Geir Søli (Norway) and Jean-Christophe Simon (France). Workshop funded by the Norwegian Research Council.

A current project is the Avian Vector of Invertebrate Faunas (AVIFauna). The AVIFauna project commenced in June 2011 and aims to describe and quantify the role of bird phoresy, that is hitch-hiking with birds, in the dispersal and colonization of high latitudes by soil invertebrates which are not normally considered to be phoretic, primarily soilmites and springtailsIt is widely accepted that that these soil dwelling creatures may accidentally attach themselves to birds and so may be spread to new localities during foraging of their inadvertent host or, perhaps more importantly, during bird migration events.It was hence generally assumed however that the incidence of these animals on birds was low since the soil animals would try and leave the ‘host’ at the first opportunity and return to their ‘normal’ habitat.However, new work published during the last four years has indicated that these invertebrates are often very common on the birds.Indeed, there is evidence that they may complete whole lifecycles on the birds. While remaining controversial, this theory does have some substance.Conditions under the feathers and close to the skin would seem to be ideal for these soil organisms being warm, protectedand with ample food supply in the form of dead organic matter (sloughed skin flakes) and fungal hyphae, both of which form the natural food types for these animals in the soil.Nonetheless, to date there has been no concerted effort to determine the importance of this dispersal to the creation of Arctic soil animal diversity. 

This project is led from the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) with participants from Russia (Natalia Lebedeva; Elena Melekhina, Anastasia Taskaeva); Norway (Torstein Solhøy, Steve Coulson) and Poland (Dariusz Gwiazdowicz). Other themes addressed by the project involve studying colonisation processes, community assembly and introduced species.

Further information on the project can be found on the project web site avifauna.no and in the brochures "On borrowed wings" and "Flying without wings" on this page.

Scientific publications describing such elements as biogeography, ecology and physiology of invertebrates in Svalbard are increasing rapidly. To date over 600 articles have been written.

 

 Posters available for download

Poster: Survival of rapidly fluctuating natural low winter temperatures by Arctic soil invertebrates available here

Poster: The terrestrial and freshwater invertebrate biodiversity of the archipelagoes of the Barents Sea; Svalbard, Franz Josef Land

and Novaya Zemlya available here.