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Small mammals as indicators of climate, biodiversity, and ecosystem change

August 23, 2017

Climate is a driving evolutionary force for biodiversity in high-latitude Alaska. This region is complex and dynamic with high annual variation in temperature and light. Through deeper time, Alaska has experienced major climate extremes over much longer periodicity. For example, the Quaternary Period (the last ~2.5 million years), commonly known as the Ice Age, was punctuated by more than 20 major glacial-interglacial cycles. During glacial phases, water was locked up in ice sheets that covered much of North America, and the resulting lower sea levels exposed a land connection between Alaska and Siberia, a combined region known as Beringia (Figure 1). This isthmus provided vast expanses of land for species to inhabit, provided they could withstand potentially harsh polar conditions. Each extended glacial phase periodically transitioned into a shorter interglacial warm phase. These climate reversals melted continental ice sheets to expose corridors for reinvasion of terrestrial species, particularly those associated with forested habitats further south. Those species that survived at northern latitudes through repeated glacial-interglacial cycles formed the Arctic tundra communities that persist today. At present, Alaska supports diverse communities associated with both tundra and forests (Figure 2). These communities often interact with one another across latitudinal and elevational gradients, with tundra species generally found further north or higher in elevation. Alaska’s climate is continuing to change today, strongly influencing local environments and the distribution and dynamics of wildlife species.

Publication Year 2017
Title Small mammals as indicators of climate, biodiversity, and ecosystem change
Authors Andrew G. Hope, Eric Waltari, Nathan R. Morse, M.J. Flamme, Joseph A. Cook, Sandra L. Talbot
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Alaska Park Science
Index ID 70190238
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB