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Extreme weather events a potent force for arctic overwintering populations


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During the winter and spring following heavy rain-on-snow events, herbivores in Svalbard may find their food sources covered by an impenetrable coat of ice. This can force wild reindeer and rock ptarmigan to aggregate in the few ice-free spots that are available. Credit: Nicholas Lecomte, Norwegian Polar Institute
Climate change is known to affect the population dynamics of single species, such as reindeer or caribou, but the effect of climate at the community level has been much more difficult to document. Now, a group of Norwegian scientists has found that extreme climate events cause synchronized population fluctuations among all vertebrate species in a relatively simple high arctic community. These findings may be a bellwether of the radical changes in ecosystem stability that could result from anticipated future increases in extreme events. The findings are published in the 18 January issue of Science.

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