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Projected changes in wildlife habitats in Arctic natural areas of northwest Alaska

Abstract

We project the effects of transitional changes among 60 vegetation and other land cover types (“ecotypes”) in northwest Alaska over the 21st century on habitats of 162 bird and 39 mammal species known or expected to occur regularly in the region. This analysis, encompassing a broad suite of arctic and boreal wildlife species, entailed building wildlife-habitat matrices denoting levels of use of each ecotype by each species, and projecting habitat changes under historic and expected accelerated future rates of change from increasing mean annual air temperature based on the average of 5 global climate models under the A1B emissions scenario, and from potential influence of a set of 23 biophysical drivers. Under historic rates of change, we project that 52 % of the 201 species will experience an increase in medium- and high-use habitats, 3 % no change, and 45 % a decrease, and that a greater proportion of mammal species (62 %) will experience habitat declines than will bird species (50 %). Outcomes become more dire (more species showing habitat loss) under projections made from effects of biophysical drivers and especially from increasing temperature, although species generally associated with increasing shrub and tree ecotypes will likely increase in distribution. Changes in wildlife habitats likely will also affect trophic cascades, ecosystem function, and ecosystem services; of particular significance are the projected declines in habitats of most small mammals that form the prey base for mesocarnivores and raptors, and habitat declines in 25 of the 50 bird and mammal species used for subsistence hunting and trapping.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Leslie Holland-Bartels, Carl Markon, and Robert Winfree for their discussions and administrative guidance on the project. The bird- and mammal-ecotype associations were reviewed by Andrew Hope, David Gustine, and Dan Ruthrauff, and bird subsistence species were identified by Alex Whiting. We thank Andrew Hope, Robert Winfree, Knut Kielland, five anonymous reviewers, and an editor for comments on the manuscript. This project was funded through the Natural Resources Preservation Program (NRPP) of U.S. Geological Survey’s Ecosystems Mission Area, and support in kind was provided by U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. Any use of trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Bruce G. Marcot.

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Marcot, B.G., Jorgenson, M.T., Lawler, J.P. et al. Projected changes in wildlife habitats in Arctic natural areas of northwest Alaska. Climatic Change 130, 145–154 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-015-1354-x

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Keywords

  • Wildlife Habitat
  • American Mink
  • National Wildlife Refuge
  • Rock Ptarmigan
  • Tall Shrub