Climate change vulnerability of Arctic char across Scandinavia

Global Change Biology
By: , and 



Climate change is anticipated to cause species to shift their ranges upward and poleward, yet space for tracking suitable habitat conditions may be limited for range-restricted species at the highest elevations and latitudes of the globe. Consequently, range-restricted species inhabiting Arctic freshwater ecosystems, where global warming is most pronounced, face the challenge of coping with changing abiotic and biotic conditions or risk extinction. Here, we use an extensive fish community and environmental dataset for 1762 lakes sampled across Scandinavia (mid-1990s) to evaluate the climate vulnerability of Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), the world's most cold-adapted and northernly distributed freshwater fish. Machine learning models show that abiotic and biotic factors strongly predict the occurrence of Arctic char across the region with an overall accuracy of 89 percent. Arctic char is less likely to occur in lakes with warm summer temperatures, high dissolved organic carbon levels (i.e., browning), and presence of northern pike (Esox lucius). Importantly, climate warming impacts are moderated by habitat (i.e., lake area) and amplified by the presence of competitors and/or predators (i.e., northern pike). Climate warming projections under the RCP8.5 emission scenario indicate that 81% of extant populations are at high risk of extirpation by 2080. Highly vulnerable populations occur across their range, particularly near the southern range limit and at lower elevations, with potential refugia found in some mountainous and coastal regions. Our findings highlight that range shifts may give way to range contractions for this cold-water specialist, indicating the need for pro-active conservation and mitigation efforts to avoid the loss of Arctic freshwater biodiversity.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Climate change vulnerability of Arctic char across Scandinavia
Series title Global Change Biology
DOI 10.1111/gcb.17387
Volume 30
Issue 7
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description e17387, 10 p.
Country Finland, Norway, Sweden
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