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Arctic Course 2017

Photo © Mikko Tiusanen


Zackenberg Research Station, Northeast Greenland, July 5-17, 2017


The Arctic is changing fast, both in terms of climate warming and in how organisms interact with each other. To understand the implications of such changes, we need to understand how Arctic ecosystems are structured, and how Arctic species are interlinked by complex, live interactions, such as predation and herbivory. In short, we need modern theory on ecological interactions, and on networks of interactions, to understand Arctic ecology and the challenges it is facing. Learning such theories – and applying them for real – that is what this course is about.

The Zackenberg field station in Northeast Greenland offers unique infrastructure for such a course, along with unparalleled background information on the local ecosystem. This will be the first course in Arctic ecology organized in this setting, taking advantage of the insights into this High-Arctic ecosystem generated by more than 20 years of intensive research.

The course links directly to the objective of the field station, and will allow this facility to be used for the very purpose it was created: to disseminate insights in Arctic ecology, to facilitate the exchange of ideas among young Arctic researchers, and train future expertise in how to account for the specific fragility of Arctic ecosystems.

Objective and learning outcome

The aim of the course is to provide students a solid understanding of the basics of Arctic ecology, of field methods applicable under remote and harsh conditions, and on how to design a research project in a new area. After attending this course, the student understands the basic principles of ecological interactions, including networks, in general, of Arctic interactions in particular, and the specific features distinguishing Arctic ecosystem from ecosystems in other parts of the world. He or she can apply this knowledge to understanding how Arctic ecosystems may respond to current and future changes.

Organization and implementation

The course provides an introduction to Arctic ecology and general principles in the structure of biodiversity. The curriculum starts from an introduction of basic concepts in community organization, and develops these first principles into an understanding on how populations are linked into larger networks on ecological interactions. Once equipped with these conceptual tools, the students are introduced in modern techniques for reconstructing ecological interactions, and to recent findings regarding how Arctic ecosystems are structured. Using the long-term time series from Zackenberg as a case in point, the teachers will outline two decades of change in the High Arctic. The students will then split into groups, each of which will be challenged to identify an ecological interaction occurring in the High Arctic, and to jointly develop an approach to dissecting and quantifying this interaction. The main part of the course will then be based on implementing these research projects under real arctic conditions, to analyze the results and to report back to all fellow students during an end seminar. Of several teachers, each will serve as a mentor, offering slightly different views on the task.

The actual field course will be preceded by background material distributed in advance of the course, which the students are expected to read and prepare to comment upon. As a key objective of the course, the students will also be challenged to seek efficient channels for disseminating their experiences and insights. Each student is expected to present a list of target audiences to reach out to, and suggestions for how to do it. These suggestions will be discussed with the mentors, and at least one suggestion per student picked for implementation. Completing this exercise is a prerequisite for successfully completing the course.


Of the teachers, Niels Martin Schmidt (Aarhus University) is the scientific leader of the Zackenberg station. With more than 20 years of expertise in Arctic ecology, he holds unparalleled insights into Arctic populations and communities, with particular emphasis on vertebrates. He is also responsible for running BioBasis, the most ambitious biomonitoring program of any Arctic ecosystem. Tomas Roslin (University of Helsinki and SLU, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) holds a professorship in Insect Ecology at SLU, Uppsala, and runs the Spatial Foodweb Ecology Group at the University of Helsinki. This group has pioneered the use of molecular information for generating insights into the structure of High-Arctic terrestrial ecosystems. Christer Björkman holds a professorship in Forest Entomology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU, Uppsala), with unique experience in herbivore-plant interactions around the world.