Over the past few years, we have been constructing the first quantitative food web for a High Arctic community. Currently expanding into the whole flora and fauna of North East Greenland, the study represents an ambitious initiative to map out the whole interaction network of the region, including both mutualistic and antagonistic interactions. As such, the study serves three purposes: first, it provides novel insight into the relative role of trophic interactions as compared to abiotic influences under harsh Arctic conditions; second, it offers a unique data point for large-scale comparisons of food web structure across latitudes, and third, it provides a baseline study in a region facing extreme climate change within the next decade.
Field work has been conducted at two sites: in 2007-2008, we made expeditions to Traill Island in North East Greenland, with the logistics shared with Dr Benoît Sittler (Freiburg University), the Karupelv Valley Project and GREA. In 2009, we relocated our work to the Zackenberg Research Station (74°30'N 21°00'W), a Danish operation offering unparalleled research facilities in an otherwise inaccessible region.
Overall, we believe that the Arctic offers a particularly rewarding environment for studies of this kind. Where the tropical and temperate webs studied so far have been complex, the low species richness typical of Arctic communities facilitates the task of measuring interspecific interactions.
Having started with lepidopteran larvae and their parasitoids, we have since expanded the food web to include the dominant arthropod predators: spiders. Birds as generalist predators followed suit. We have connected plants to both herbivores and pollinators, and are now moving belowground to add soil arthropods and fungi to the web.
In the summer of 2017, we will be focusing on pollinator webs at several locations across the Arctic, including Zackenberg.