We have been logging changes in weather patterns and temperatures in the Arctic for quite some time. What is more difficult is to measure how these changes in climate are affecting biodiversity. According to some colleagues from McGill's Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences one of the best places to look may be down at our feet, at beetles.
The team of researchers was able to identify more than 460 different species of Arctic beetles in locations ranging from the edge of the boreal forest in Northern Ontario to Ellesmere Island in the far north. More significantly, they found that there were clear differences in what beetles are found where along this north-south gradient, and the ecological roles they fulfilled differed depending on the latitude in which they lived. The beetles are diverse in feeding habits and what they eat is closely linked to the latitude in which they are found.
Species and functional diversity have significant negative relationships with latitude, which are likely explained by the mediating effects of temperature, precipitation, and plant height. Assemblages within the same ecoclimatic zone are similar, and there is a significant relationship between assemblage structure and latitude. Species and functional assemblage structure are significantly correlated with many of the same climatic factors, particularly temperature maxima and minima. At a large spatial extent, the diversity and assemblage structure of northern beetles show strong latitudinal gradients due to the mediating effects of climate, particularly temperature.
The discovery that Arctic beetles may be especially sensitive to temperature has implications for future climate change monitoring.
As temperatures in northern regions rise or become more variable, there is a strong possibility that the beetle communities will undergo significant changes in response. Whether these changes will have positive or negative effects on Arctic ecosystems and the other animals and plants living there remains to be seen, but it is clear that beetles' sensitivity to climate make them ideal targets for long-term biodiversity monitoring in the far north.