A long journey for terrestrial invertebrates

A long journey for terrestrial invertebrates

Top image: PhD candidate María Luisa Ávila Jiménez on fieldwork in Kinnvika on Nordaustlandet, Svalbard. Photo: Steve Coulson/UNIS.

Invertebrates play a very important role in Arctic ecosystems, but very little is known about their recent history. PhD candidate María Luisa Ávila Jiménez has studied the biogeographical factors in order to define the distribution of invertebrate species in the Arctic and Svalbard. Jiménez will defend her PhD thesis on 22 September at UNIS.

20 September 2011
Press release from UNIS and the University of Bergen

During the Last Glacial Maximum, which ended in Svalbard approximately 10.00 years ago, the environment was presumably so harsh that close to none of the invertebrate species now living in Svalbard could have survived. The same applies for most of the High Arctic areas.

PhD candidate María Luisa Ávila Jiménez has studied the historical, geographical and environmental factors in order to define the distribution of invertebrate species in the Arctic in general and in Svalbard in particular.

Jiménez’ findings are now published in her PhD thesis “High Arctic Invertebrate Biogeography: Patterns and Colonization Processes since the Last Glacial Maximum”.

Her results reveal that there were developed invertebrate clusters in well-known glacial refugia in the Bering Strait and Mid-Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum. There are no indications that these invertebrate groups have survived the Last Glacial Maximum in Svalbard. Even so, there are strong connections between Svalbard, Greenland and mainland Norway, and another connection between Svalbard and Mid-Siberia.

Seven new species in Svalbard
Jiménez’ analyses have been combined with additional biodiversity data, particularly from the less surveyed areas in eastern Svalbard, including Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya, and molecular data from a springtail species. Seven species, never described before in Svalbard, were found only in the Edgeøya samples, and they have never been found in western Svalbard, indicating the existence of specific eastern communities. These species are thought to survive perfectly in western Svalbard, and yet they are not found there.

Most of these new species are linked to Siberian regions. This pattern, showing two separate links, one with north Atlantic areas and a second one with eastern Palaearctic (Siberia), is repeated across geographical scales and across species, giving for the first time a solid insight into from where, when, and how these animals made it to Svalbard.

The Svalbard east coast turns out to be the first pit-stop for new colonizing groups of invertebrates with origin in the eastern Palaearctic, whereas the Svalbard west coast receives colonizing invertebrates from mainland Norway as these animals follow the large ocean currents.

The research done by Jiménez is of high relevance for further monitoring of natural (non-human mediated) biological invasions, which are known to cause important (and in many cases very fast) changes in existing communities and ecosystems in an environmental change scenario.

Dissertation
María Luisa Ávila Jiménez will defend her PhD thesis “High Arctic Invertebrate Biogeography: Patterns and Colonization Processes since the Last Glacial Maximum” on 22 September at 13:15. She will give a trial lecture entitled “Colonisation and dispersal processes of different taxonomic groups in polar (north and south) terrestrial environments; major mechanisms and importance of human influence versus natural processes” on 22 September at 10:00.

About the candidate
María Luisa Ávila Jiménez was born in 1981 in Córdoba, Spain. She studied biology at the University of Córdoba. She enrolled as a PhD candidate at UNIS and the University of Bergen (UiB) in August 2007.

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