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Climate change threaten nature’s garbage collector

New research by AIAS Former Fellow Toke T. Høye and collaborators from Washington University in St. Louis show that warmer active seasons and fewer freeze-thaw events lead to big changes for arthropods in the Arctic.

2018.04.20 | Lena Bering

Photo: The caterpillar Gynaephora groenlandica or the Arctic woolly bear moth. By: Toke T. Høye.

The new results were published this week by AIAS Former Fellow Toke T. Høye from the Dept. of Bioscience and Arctic Research Centre at Aarhus University and collaborators from Washington University in the scientific article “Differential arthropod responses to warming are altering the structure of Arctic communities" in the journal Royal Society Open Science .

The article is analysing how the arthropods – or bugs - are responding to the rapid warming in the region. Warmer seasons and more winter snow-melt events in the Arctic now result in a decrease in the detritivores – the insects that literally consume the garbage of the living world. Whereas the number of plant-eating and parasitic arthropods is going up. 

The changes in community composition were up to five times more extreme in drier rather than wet habitats, suggesting that water availability will play a strong role in what types of bugs will succeed in a warming Arctic. 

As species interactions and food web dynamics are changing, the study anticipates that more ecosystem-level changes are in store. More herbivorous bugs could mean more herbivore pressure for Arctic plants, while the decline in detritivores could result in changes in decomposition and soil nutrient cycling.    

Extensive Arctic Data set

The article rests on the longest-standing, most comprehensive data set on arctic arthropods in the world today: a catalogue of almost 600,000 beetles, flies, wasps, spiders and other creepy-crawlies collected at the Zackenberg field station on the northeast coast of Greenland from 1996-2014. 


This research has received funding from the Aarhus University Research Foundation, the U.S. National Science Foundation (DEB 1210704) and the US National Parks Service (George Melendez Climate Change Fellowship). 

Read the full article here

Differential arthropod responses to warming are altering the structure of Arctic communities” by Amanda M. Koltz, Niels M. Schmidt, Toke T. Høye in: Royal Society Open Science. Published 18 April 2018. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.171503 

For further information, please contact

Toke Thomas Høye, Senior Researcher
Department of Bioscience
Arctic Research Centre
Mobile: +45 3018 3122



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Tags: Arthropods, climate change, the Artic, warming