The harsh climate, limited human infrastructures, and basic autecological knowledge gaps represent substantial challenges for studying arthropods in the Arctic. At the same time, rapid climate change, low species diversity, and strong collaborative networks provide unique and underexploited Arctic opportunities for understanding species responses to environmental change and testing ecological theory. Here, I provide an overview of individual, population, and ecosystem level responses to climate change in Arctic arthropods. I focus on thermal performance, life history variation, population dynamics, community composition, diversity, and biotic interactions. The species-poor Arctic represents a unique opportunity for testing novel, automated arthropod monitoring methods. The Arctic can also potentially provide insights to further understand and mitigate the effects of climate change on arthropods worldwide.
BACKGROUND: Climate change is particularly pronounced in the High Arctic and a better understanding of the repercussions on ecological processes like herbivory, predation and pollination is needed. Arthropods play an important role in the high-arctic ecosystem and this role is determined by their density and activity. However, density and activity may be sensitive to separate components of climate. Earlier emergence due to advanced timing of snowmelt following climate change may expose adult arthropods to unchanged temperatures but higher levels of radiation. The capture rate of arthropods in passive open traps like pitfall trap integrates density and activity and, therefore, serves as a proxy of the magnitude of such arthropod-related ecological processes. We used arthropod pitfall trapping data and weather data from 10 seasons in high-arctic Greenland to identify climatic effects on the activity pattern of nine arthropod taxa. RESULTS: We were able to statistically separate the variation in capture rates into a non-linear component of capture date (density) and a linear component of weather (activity). The non-linear proxy of density always accounted for more of the variation than the linear component of weather. After accounting for the seasonal phenological development, the most important weather variable influencing the capture rate of flying arthropods was temperature, while surface-dwelling species were principally influenced by solar radiation. CONCLUSION: Consistent with previous findings, air temperature best explained variation in the activity level of flying insects. An advancement of the phenology in this group due to earlier snowmelt will make individuals appear earlier in the season, but parallel temperature increases could mean that individuals are exposed to similar temperatures. Hence, the effect of climatic changes on the activity pattern in this group may be unchanged. In contrast, we found that solar radiation is a better proxy of activity levels than air temperature in surface-dwelling arthropods. An advancement of the phenology may expose surface-dwelling arthropods to higher levels of solar radiation, which suggest that their locomotory performance is enhanced and their contribution to ecological processes is increased.
Research into the ecophysiology of arthropod cold tolerance has largely focussed on those parts of the year and/or the life cycle in which cold stress is most likely to be experienced, resulting in an emphasis on studies of the preparation for and survival in the overwintering state. However, the non-feeding stage of the moult cycle also gives rise to a period of increased cold hardiness in some microarthropods and, as a consequence, a proportion of the field population is cold tolerant even during the summer active period. In the case of the common Antarctic springtail Cryptopygus antarcticus, the proportion of time spent in this non-feeding stage is extended disproportionately relative to the feeding stage as temperature is reduced. As a result, the proportion of the population in a cold tolerant state, with low supercooling points (SCPs), increases at lower temperatures. We found that, at 5 degrees C, about 37% of the population are involved in ecdysis and exhibit low SCPs. At 2 degrees C this figure increased to 50% and, at 0 degrees C, we estimate that 80% of the population will have increased cold hardiness as a result of a prolonged non-feeding, premoult period. Thus, as part of the suite of life history and ecophysiological features that enable this Antarctic springtail to survive in its hostile environment, it appears that it can take advantage of and extend the use of a pre-existing characteristic inherent within the moulting cycle.
BACKGROUND: Ice, snow and temperatures of -14 degrees C are conditions which most animals would find difficult, if not impossible, to survive in. However this exactly describes the Arctic winter, and the Arctic springtail Onychiurus arcticus regularly survives these extreme conditions and re-emerges in the spring. It is able to do this by reducing the amount of water in its body to almost zero: a process that is called "protective dehydration". The aim of this project was to generate clones and sequence data in the form of ESTs to provide a platform for the future molecular characterisation of the processes involved in protective dehydration. RESULTS: Five normalised libraries were produced from both desiccating and rehydrating populations of O. arcticus from stages that had previously been defined as potentially informative for molecular analyses. A total of 16,379 EST clones were generated and analysed using Blast and GO annotation. 40% of the clones produced significant matches against the Swissprot and trembl databases and these were further analysed using GO annotation. Extraction and analysis of GO annotations proved an extremely effective method for identifying generic processes associated with biochemical pathways, proving more efficient than solely analysing Blast data output. A number of genes were identified, which have previously been shown to be involved in water transport and desiccation such as members of the aquaporin family. Identification of these clones in specific libraries associated with desiccation validates the computational analysis by library rather than producing a global overview of all libraries combined. CONCLUSION: This paper describes for the first time EST data from the arctic springtail (O. arcticus). This significantly enhances the number of Collembolan ESTs in the public databases, providing useful comparative data within this phylum. The use of GO annotation for analysis has facilitated the identification of a wide variety of ESTs associated with a number of different biochemical pathways involved in the dehydration and recovery process in O. arcticus.