Arctic Biology research at UNIS

The Department of Arctic Biology at UNIS is the only European High Arctic situated biology department realizing undergraduate education, graduate research experience and Arctic research on a regular basis.

Go to current biology research projects

As the “Gateway to the High Arctic” in the North Atlantic region it provides students and scientists with excellent academic facilities to study Arctic organisms. Of special interest at the high latitudes are adaptations of organisms to extreme physical conditions and the constraints to various biological interactions under these conditions.

The UNIS Arctic Biology Department has active research programmes within both marine and terrestrial biology/ecology following the general strategy and scientific focus at UNIS, where functional mechanisms and processes in the Arctic are emphasized and co-operation across traditional disciplines is encouraged.

Biology research at UNIS

Research areas

As indicated in the figure above the biological research at UNIS covers four interacting main topics: Biogeography, Winter biology, Sea-Ice and Population dynamics.

Marine research involves ecological studies of ice-associated (sympagic), pelagic and benthic communities with focus on taxonomy, population dynamics, distribution patterns, trophic interactions and energy flow.

Terrestrial studies concentrate on a variety of zoological, botanical and microbiological projects related to the Arctic. Current research includes plant population and community processes, genetic variation in plants, climate impact and plant-animal interactions, as well as general ecology, dispersal and cold tolerance in invertebrates, and studies on the Svalbard reindeer.

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Current research projects:

Microfun fieldwork, Adventdalen, Svalbard. Photo: Anna Vader/UNIS
Microfun fieldwork, Adventdalen, Svalbard. Photo: Anna Vader/UNIS


MicroFun is a UNIS-based project, where the biodiversity and function of terrestrial and marine microbial eukaryotes in Svalbard are investigated. The microbes are critically important to all ecosystems on Earth, as primary producers and decomposers, yet their minute size and our inability to culture most of them have made them difficult to study. MicroFun is a collaboration between scientists working in the Arctic terrestrial and marine environments.

Contact persons:
Tove Gabrielsen (marine part)
Pernille Bronken Eidesen (terrestrial part)

MicroFUN project page
bioCEED logo – norsk versjon

bioCEED: Centre of Excellence in Biology Education

bioCEED, a consortium between the Department of Biology at UiB (BIO), Department of Arctic Biology at UNIS (AB), Department of Education at UiB (HERU), and the Institute of Marine Research (IMR), has been awarded status as a Center of Excellence in Biology Education.

The vision behind bioCEED is that the rapid change in biology and the biologist’s role in society create new demands, not only to the content of the biology education, but also to how we teach future biologists.

bioCEED home page
Cleopatra fieldwork, Rijpfjorden, Svalbard.
Cleopatra fieldwork, Rijpfjorden, Svalbard. Photo: Jørgen Berge /UNIS

CLEOPATRA II: Climate effects on planktonic food quality and trophic transfer in Arctic Marginal Ice Zones

A warmer climate with less extensive ice cover will lead to higher total primary production in the Arctic, which has the potential to increase the overall secondary production.

However, altered climate conditions will affect timing, quantity and quality of ice algal and phytoplankton food sources with implications for the grazers. Depending on the grazers’ ability to adapt to these new conditions, some organisms will be favored more than others, resulting in ecological winners and losers.

Contact person: Janne Søreide, Associate professor in marine biology

CLEOPATRA II project page
Mite eating mite in Svalbard. Photo: Steve Coulson/UNIS
Predatory mite eating a compatriate. Photo: Steve Coulson/UNIS

SPIDER – Svalbard Photographic Invertebrate Database and Educational Resource

Invertebrate is a general term for all animals without backbones, for example insects, spiders and worms.

There are some 1,100 species of invertebrate recorded from the archipelago including 230 species of insect and 19 species of spider but they are often hard to observe. The aim of SPIDER is to provide information about this fascinating group of animals, for example, what is here? How did it get here? How does it survive here?

This is an ongoing project and the site will be continually developed.

Contact person: Steve Coulson

SPIDER home page

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