Association of Polar Early Career Scientists


APECS members Kristen Gorman and Sarah Hardy were among the international group of polar scientists, representatives from government agencies and conservation groups, and indigenous community experts who joined the steering committee of the Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group for a three-day workshop on conservation of sea-ice associated biodiversity. The meeting was held March 22-24, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia. A second meeting is scheduled for Fall 2011 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum that seeks to promote cooperation and interaction among Arctic States and indigenous communities in addressing common Arctic issues, including sustainable development and environmental protection, and CAFF is specifically tasked with addressing conservation issues. This Vancouver workshop represents the first phase in the development of a technical report concerning the impacts of Arctic sea-ice loss on biodiversity. Several members of the panel of experts initiated discussion by presenting results from their own Arctic research, and two days of small-group and panel discussions followed. The complexity of environmental issues facing the Arctic was an over-arching theme of all these discussions. Panel members thoughtfully discussed potential negative and positive effects predicted to occur with continued sea ice loss, touching on variable responses at all trophic levels, from primary producers to top predators. These effects included shifts in phenology, abundance, species ranges, trophic relationships and genetic diversity. Representatives from indigenous communities played a key role in discussions, providing local knowledge of the changing ecosystem, as well as a voice for the residents of the Arctic who will be most impacted by both environmental change and by any management policies that may be instituted to address conservation issues.

For early career scientists, this experience provided a number of important lessons about communication, and about the links between science and policy-making. Field research experience at the poles has left us with a strong sense of how limited our understanding of these systems truly is, and yet policy-makers need information upon which to base decisions sooner rather than later. Moreover, given the huge information gaps still existing in polar ecosystems, particularly with respect to the lower trophic levels where the bulk of species-level diversity is found, productive international collaborations will be essential in moving Arctic science forward. Workshops like this are a great way for young researchers to establish such connections. We thank the CAFF steering committee for giving us this opportunity!

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