The Arctic and Climate Change

Canada’s frigid North is home to some amazing animals, but unfortunately it’s an ecosystem under threat. Climate change is causing the Arctic zone to warm two to three times faster than the global average, which is having serious impacts on the species that call it home. That’s why it’s essential that we work to better understand what the potential effects of climate change on wildlife will be, and develop conservation strategies that will mitigate their impact.

Project Animals

Narwhal

Narwhals are toothed whales most closely related to belugas. They are characterized by a long tusk, which despite their horn-like appearance is actually a canine tooth that protrudes through their upper lip. They travel in pods of 10-100, spending their summers in shallow, ice-free waters, then moving to deeper more offshore locations each winter. Tallurutiup Imanga, a National Marine Conservation Area in Nunavut, is an important summering ground for narwhals, but an increase in nearby shipping traffic may be threatening their ability to survive.

Ringed Seal

Found in the cold waters of the Arctic, the ringed seal relies on underwater kelp forests to provide it with the fish and invertebrate prey it needs to survive. Besides being home to the prey ringed seals rely on, kelp forests provide a number of other ecosystem services: they sequester carbon, are responsible for nutrient cycling, support a high level of biodiversity, and even act as nurseries for various animal species. However, little is known about these incredible habitats, particularly about how they might change as the Arctic continues to warm, which could have significant consequences for the biodiversity of the Arctic ecosystem as a whole.

Arctic Fox

The Arctic fox is a small fox native to the Arctic tundra biome. It has many adaptations that help protect it from its harsh northern habitat, but climate change is introducing new challenges to its survival and reproduction. Warming temperatures can make it easier for insects to spread the harmful viruses, bacteria, and parasites that they may carry, which is why it’s critical we learn more about how this spread occurs and how it impacts Arctic fox populations.

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Meet the Team!

Leah Pengelly

University of Manitoba
Leah is currently hard at work on a project that she hopes will help us learn more about how underwater noise might affect Nunavut’s narwhal population. Because of its harsh climate and remote location, underwater sound studies are difficult to conduct, making the traditional knowledge learned from Inuit communities that rely on narwhals invaluable. By pairing this with soundscape data, we can develop a broader understanding of the health of the Tallurutiup Imanga marine ecosystem, helping us better protect it for years to come.

Camille Lavoie

Laval University
Laval University researcher Camille Lavoie is working to gain a better understanding of the diversity of fish, invertebrates, and marine mammals supported by the Arctic’s kelp forest habitats. Determining the species present in areas of varying kelp density will help us understand more about how kelp forests support higher levels of biodiversity, and will allow for data to be collected that can be used to model and monitor how these habitats might be affected by climate change. By learning more about how these important ecosystems support Arctic fauna, we can better protect them in the face of a changing climate.

Kayla Buhler

University of Saskatchewan
Kayla's research goal is to help us learn more about how climate change may impact the spread of insect-borne diseases amongst Arctic foxes in Canada’s north. Are they catching them from their migratory bird prey, whose populations are getting bigger as they have more food available in a warming Arctic? Are insects like mosquitoes and fleas simply better able to spread disease thanks to warming temperatures? And just how much of the Arctic fox population is affected by insect-borne diseases? By sampling fox dens and testing pups, we can try to answer some of these questions and help to better protect Arctic foxes from the spread of disease.

Project Updates