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The objectives of the project are to assess: 1) the present biodiversity of benthos in Arctic coastal ecosystems (White Sea, southern Barents Sea, Pechora Sea), and indicators for changes caused by disturbances; 2) the adaptations to the Arctic climate for some benthic key-species, the additional influence of disturbance and the sensitivity of the key-species to additional stress from disturbances; 3) the geochemical background of the regions Research activities: Annual missions by ship for sampling water, sediments and macrobenthos. Biodiversity analysis of macrobenthos in sediments in laboratories in Murmansk (MMBI) and Tromsø (Akvaplan-Niva), ecophysiological analyses in laboratories of St. Petersburg (ZISP), Yerseke (NIOO-CEMO) and Pisa (UN), analyses of pollutants in laboratories in Moscow (MSU), Nantes(UN) and Pisa (UP), geochemical analyses of water and sediment in laboratories of Moscow (MSU) and Barcelona (UB). Training of 3 PhD students
This study aims at reconstructing the Barents Sea marine ecosystem before the exploitation by man. This reconstruction will be made by using the existing archival resources on catch statistics from the 17th to 19th centuries in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom, in combination with the present knowledge an animal behaviour and food web structure. Fieldwork is planned in two former hunting areas in Spitsbergen: the Smeerenburgfjord and the Storfjord to study both the structure of the recent marine ecosystem and the composition, size and dating of the recent bird rookeries. This information in combination with the historical data will be used to reconstruct the original ecosystem.
In order to manage populations of migratory geese a better understanding of the mechanisms that determine the size of these populations is needed. The objective of this project is to investigate such mechanisms, within the framework of the entire population of Dark-bellied Brent Geese, that winters in western Europe, and breeds in northern Siberia. The final objective of this project is to help predict future numbers of geese that will winter in western Europe in order to be able to forecast levels of agricultural damage caused by geese. Though hunting is an important factor determining the size of most goose populations, this is not a focal point in this project. Therefore this project focuses on a virtually non-hunted subspecies, viz. the Dark-bellied Brent Goose. Research activities Field work has been carried out in the Pyasina-delta in northern Taymyr, Russia during six consecutive summers from 1990 - 1995 in order to cover two complete lemming cycles. The project focuses the one hand on natural predators (like arctic foxes, Snowy Owls, Glaucous Gulls and Herring Gulls, and even Polar Bears) as a regulatory mechanism for the Dark-bellied Brent Geese, a virtually non-hunted subspecies. Lemming cycles have an important effect on the abundance and behaviour of most of these predators, and measuring lemming density forms an integral part of this study. On the other hand weather conditions, as well as the body condition of the geese themselves are being studied, because those factors are in themselves extremely important predictors of breeding success.
In the seventeent and eighteenth centuries intensive European whaling and walrus hunting took place in the waters around Spitsbergen, with many stations on the coast of the islands. The hunt was carried out in areas along the edge of pack ice and is therefore very sensitive to changes in the ice situation and climate. When, around 1650, climate and ice distribution changed, whales moved to the north. The whaling stations in the south of Spitsbergen were abandoned when stations in the north were still functioning. When, later, the ice situation deteriorated in the north as well, the stations were abandoned there too. Shore whaling changed into pelagic whaling. Because of these whaling and walrus hunting activities two very numerous large mammals were largely depleted and almost disappeared from the Spitsbergen waters. The pelagically feeding Greenland Right Whale and the bentically feeding walrus, whose initial stocks are estimated at 46,000 Greenland Right Whales and 25,000 walrus, were eliminated. This elimination has caused a major shift in the foodweb. The plankton feeding seabirds and polar cod strongly increased because of the elimination of the Greenland Right Whale, and the eider ducks and bearded seals increased because of the decrease of the number of walruses. This development has led to the enormous amount of seabird rookeries on the West coast of Spitsbergen.