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$2.8 million for research into the impact of climate change on tundra wildlife

Quebec City, October 24, 2007Professor Gilles Gauthier of Universit Lavals Centre dtudes nordiques has been awarded close to $2.8 million to set up the ArticWOLVES project as part of International Polar Year. Bringing together some forty researchers from nine countries, the research project aims to better understand the impact of climate change on insects, birds, and mammals in polar ecosystems.

Dating back to the 1960s, Centre dtudes nordiques (CEN) is Universit Lavals oldest research center.Gilles Gauthier and UQARs Dominique Berteauxboth affiliated to CENcreated the ArcticWOLVES (Wildlife Observatories Linking Vulnerable EcoSystems) project to better understand the impact of climate change on interaction between speciesplants, herbivores, predatorsin the tundra. Scientists know that rising average temperatures and shrinking glaciers in the Arctic will have a considerable impact on ecosystems, affecting the distribution and abundance of species. There is an urgent need to document the direct and indirect effects of climate change on the biodiversity of tundra wildlife and to predict the future impacts of these changes on species through followup work in the field and models, explained Gilles Gauthier.

The ArcticWOLVES program is considered an important part of International Polar Year, both in Canada and abroad. The project will build a network of circumpolar wildlife observatories to determine the current status of Arctic food webs (species interaction) over a large geographical range. Universit Laval vice rector of research and creation Edwin Bourget believes that collaboration between Canadian and International Polar Year authorities and national and territorial parks in Nunavut, the Yukon, and Manitoba, combined with the expertise of Centre dtudes nordiques researchers, will ensure that this exciting project is a success.

To illustrate the project approach, professor Gauthier cited the example of the lemming, a small rodent that is the basic fare of all tundra predators. We know that snow cover and thermal insulation are very important to the lemming population. There is every reason to believe that longer falls combined with more frequent freezing and thawing could have an adverse affect on lemming population cycles and even put these rodent populations at risk. A significant drop in the number of lemmings could be catastrophic for predators like the Arctic fox and the snowy owl. ArcticWOLVES researchers are particular concerned about the fate of the Arctic fox, whose territory is steadily being encroached upon by the red fox due to global warming. Bigger and more aggressive, the red fox is proving fierce competition for its northern cousin. The latter has already almost entirely disappeared from Scandinavia, and were the same thing to happen in the Canadian tundra, it would be a big blow to biodiversity.

The possible loss of biodiversity will also affect people living in the tundra. Inuit and other communities indigenous to the North depend on these species for survival. The ArticWOLVES research project is therefore also tied to the wellbeing of northern communities.


Contact: Martin Guay
Universit Laval

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