The capacity of protected areas in the Barents Region to conserve biodiversity threatened by climate change and the Effects of predicted increases in anthropogenic pressures and land-use changes on future biodiversity in the Barents region


The threat of a changing climate has been recognised as one of the main drivers behind (future) extinctions. Its predicted impact is thought to be large scale and capable of affecting entire ecosystems. Especially the high latitude regions in the northern hemisphere are expected to be affected by climate change, which makes species in regions like the Barents Region particularly vulnerable. A recently completed project, conducted at Umeå University and funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers, concerned the Barents region, and investigated the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services in the Barents Region. This project led to the strong believe that, unless actions are taken, climate change may make current efforts to conserve biodiversity irrelevant or obsolete. Therefore, Umeå University started another Barents project, funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers, which focuses on the challenges facing nature conservation in the Barents region i.e. northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and north-western Russia.

The Barents Region showing the protected areas as defined by the WDPA (UNEP and IUCN, available at url:

Project aims and structure

The aims of the project are to evaluate the effectiveness of presently protected areas in the Barents Region in conserving species and ecosystems in a future situation with a warmer climate. We will analyse the need for new reserves, identify areas where management or assisted dispersal may be required to help species colonize new suitable areas, and examine the opportunities for artificially maintaining species in current reserves by managing them differently than at present. We further aim to assess the effect of predicted increases in anthropogenic pressures and land-use changes on future species communities in the Barents region. Specifically, we ask:

1. Can the network of protected areas adequately conserve species and ecosystem types in the Barents Region in a future situation with a warmer climate?
2. Where are the major gaps in terms of providing stepping-stones or migration routes between reserves, and in representing natural variation in a future situation with a warmer climate?
3. What are the economic consequences of alternative conservation strategies, i.e. how much money is invested in reserves that no longer are expected to be effective in conserving biodiversity, and what is the estimated cost of establishing a network of reserves effective both in allowing between-reserve dispersal and in representing biodiversity in a future, warmer climate?
4. What are the most likely scenarios with regard to expected anthropogenic changes, e.g. where and how much new arable land will be cultivated, how might hunting develop, where might the main reindeer herding grounds be situated in the future, where, and to what extent, will new human settlements develop, how will existing human settlements be affected by increased precipitation and runoff, what will be the extent of the new mining opportunities?
5. Are future species communities able to cope with additional pressure from climate-related human-induced alterations in the landscape?
6. Where will species experience the greatest risks, and what are the best strategies to mitigate these risks?

Expected output

The Barents project will contribute the following to society
- An insight in how future climate change (2080) may affect ecosystems and biodiversity in the Barents region
- A guidance for nature conservation managers concerning the best strategies to respond to future climate change in the Barents region
- A number of mitigation measures to ensure protected areas are able to retain their rich biodiversity in a future, warmer, climate
- A number of assessments for IUCN red-listed species
- An estimate of the “cost” of not acting to fulfil the requirements of the Convention of Biological Diversity, i.e. avoiding further losses of species.

Research group

Project leader: Prof. Christer Nilsson
Project coordinator: Associate Prof. Roland Jansson
GIS analyses and climate change modeling: Dr. Anouschka Hof

Steering Group

Henna Haapala, Ministry of the Environment, Finland
Ingrid Lillehagen, Ministry of Environment, Norway
Åke Mikaelsson, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Sweden

Project group

Mats-Rune Bergström, County Administration of Västerbotten, Sweden
Bente Christiansen, County Governor of Finnmark, Norway
Jan-Petter Hubert Hansen, Directorate for Nature Management, Norway
Anna Kuhmonen, Finnish Environment Institute, Finland


Mats Ekenger, Nordic Council of Ministers
Sanna-Kaisa Juvonen, Nordic Council of Ministers


At present expected changes in the future distribution ranges of a large number of species have been assessed. We investigated the changes in the ranges of in total 600 species representing 7 classes: Amphibia, Aves, Gastropoda, Insecta, Mammalia, Plantae, and Reptilia. See below for a few examples of range expanding/ range contracting/ and invading species.

So far we have found that the climatic conditions are expected to improve in the future in the Barents Region for many species. More warm and wetter conditions (see figure 1) will allow a considerable number of species to expand their distribution range. However, various species (especially habitat specialists) are expected to contract their range over time. Furthermore, several new species are predicted to be able to invade the region, altering community composition.

Range expansion

The West-European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is a common, widespread insectivorous mammal. It is currently mainly occurring in the more southern, relatively warmer parts of the Barents region. As a hibernating species, it is bound by cold climates. With the expected warming of the Barents region it is predicted that the hedgehog will be able to expand northwards (see figure 2a). © Anouschka Hof

Range contraction

The Norway lemming (Lemmus lemmus) is currently occurring in large parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and parts of North-western Russia. It is endemic to the region and mainly inhabits alpine and subarctic habitats. However, it is expected that these habitat types will cover less area in the Barents region in the future due to climate change. It is therefore not surprising that the distribution range of the Norway lemming is expected to decrease (see figure 2b). Although the Norway lemming is currently classified as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the species is likely going to face declines due to climate change. This is not only a threat to the species itself, but may also increase pressure upon other species that heavily prey upon Norway lemming, like the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). See below for the importance of species interactions.


The whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus) is currently occurring in the southern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and North-western Russia. At present it is absent from the Barents region. As many bats, the whiskered bat is limited in its distribution by cold temperatures. Consequently, it is predicted to be able to find its way up to the Barents region in the future (see figure 2c), when we will likely have a warmer climate.

Figure 1. The predicted mean annual precipitation and mean annual temperature in the Barents Region. Data are based upon future climatic predictions of the downscaled general circulation models (GCMs) CGCM2, developed by the ‘Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis’, and HadCM3 developed by the Hadley Centre.

Figure 2. The predicted changes in the distribution range of the a) European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), b) Norway lemming (Lemmus lemmus), and c) Whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus).

The importance of species interactions

While species distribution modelling is frequently used to assess the impact of future climate change on species distributions, biotic factors are rarely taken into account. The Fennoscandian population of the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) is currently assessed as critically endangered, which is mainly due to low availability of its main prey, the Norway lemming (Lemmus lemmus), and competition from the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Future climate change might form a further threat to its persistance in the region. We used this species-community to investigate whether changing biotic interactions play a significant role in species distribution modelling in the face of climate change. Our results show that whilst the range of the arctic fox is predicted to have decreased in 2080, due to temperature related variables, both the predicted lower prey availability, and predicted increased competition pressure further reduced its potential future range. The results illustrate the importance of accounting for community level interactions in species distribution modelling, when designing (future) conservation strategies. Our results further have large implications for the design and implementation of conservation strategies for the arctic fox in Fennoscandia, potentially necessitating control of red fox abundance as well as feeding arctic fox during unfavourable periods.

Incorporating natural history traits

It is thus far not known what it takes to be a ‘loser’ or a ‘winner’ in high latitude regions, we therefore gathered natural history data and used species distribution modelling to assess the current and future distribution of the majority of breeding birds in (sub)arctic Europe. We show that the currently well-established cold-adapted species with large ranges in the (sub)arctics will be the major losers following climate warming. Although no species was predicted to go extinct, several might lose an extensive part of their range. Our work provides evidence for the vulnerability of cold-adapted species, even those that are currently widely distributed. We show how some natural history traits like ground nesting, migration and dependency on peaks in prey availability can make species extra vulnerable to climate change.

A red necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), one of the species scoring high on our future vulnerability scale© Anouschka Hof


Hof AR, Jansson R, Nilsson C. 2012 Future climate change will favour non specialist mammals in the (Sub)arctics. PLoS ONE, 7(12): e52574.

Hof AR, Jansson R, Nilsson C. 2012. The usefulness of elevation as a predictor variable in species distribution modelling. Ecological Modelling, 246: 86-90.

Hof AR, Jansson R, Nilsson C. 2012. How biotic interactions may alter future predictions of species distributions: future threats to the persistence of the arctic fox in Fennoscandia. Diversity and Distributions, 18: 554-562.

Rodríguez-Castañeda G, Hof AR, Jansson R, Harding LE. 2012. Towards a standardisation of species distribution models (SDMs) to make inferences on diversity responses to climate change. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44402

Presentations at conferences and publicity

Hof AR. 2012. How biotic interactions may alter future predictions of species distributions: future threats to the persistence of the arctic fox in Fennoscandia. Invited speaker at the 2012 GBIF Science Symposium in Lillehammer, Norway.

This talk was globally covered; e.g.

Hof AR. 2012. What does it take to be a loser? The future loss of species that live on the edge. Oral presentation at the 3rd European Congress of Conservation Biology, Glasgow, United Kingdom

Page Editor: Elisabet Carlborg

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