New red list for Svalbard vascular plants

New red list for Svalbard vascular plants

Top image: Mountain Eyebright in Bockfjorden. This plant species is categorized as endangered on the Svalbard red list. Photo: Inger Greve Alsos/

UNIS biologists have had a strong focus on rare plant species during field work over the last few years. The increased knowledge has resulted in several changes in the red list status for vascular plants in Svalbard.

10 November 2010
Text and photos: Inger Greve Alsos

The last time the red list for vascular plants was updated was in 2006. Yesterday an updated 2010 red list was presented in Norway.

For Svalbard, the updated red list for vascular plants contains the following changes:
• Four species are removed from the red list
• 15 species are categorized lower on the red list this year than the red list in 2006
• Eight species are placed in a higher red list category in 2010 than in 2006

Out of these, 16 species have been re-categorized due to new knowledge about the species.

The Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund has financed a red list project in Bockfjorden on Spitsbergen. The project is a cooperation between UNIS botanist Inger Greve Alsos, and University of Oslo botanists Reidar Elven and Anne Krag Brysting. In addition, two UNIS master students, Siri Birkeland and Idunn E. B. Skjetne, have been involved in the project. New plant species have also been identified during field work excursions in the UNIS courses AB-201 Terrestrial Arctic Biology and AB-326 Arctic Plant Ecology.

Evaluation of red list species in Bockfjorden
During fieldwork in Bockfjorden the botanist team evaluated the eight red list species in the area. Location, geographical area and population size were determined. For some species, the size of the population was larger than previously estimated.

An example is Hair Sedge (Carex capillaris ssp. fuscidula) close to the warm springs in Bockfjorden. Previously it was believed that the population was very small. The Hair Sedge was found in an area sized approximately 100 x 600 meters, and the population size was estimated to several thousand individual plants. This resulted in a change in the plant’s red list status; from critically endangered (CR) to vulnerable (VU).

There have also been new discoveries of Scottish Asphodel (Tofieldia pusilla) populations over the past couple of years. About 100 plants were found near the warm springs in Bockfjorden. A new population of over 100 plants was discovered in Ringhorndalen (Wijdefjorden), and a population of approximately 1000 plants in Nathorstdalen during an AB-326 field excursion in 2009. These populations appear to be well established and stable, and the species have now been removed from the red list.

The only known location of Sibbaldia (Sibbaldia procumbens) in Svalbard is close to the warm springs Trollkjeldene in Bockfjorden. This location was registered in 1960 and 1974. In 2009, the population had established itself over an area of 600 meters and counted at least 1000 plants, of which a quarter was in bloom. Due to the increase and fertility of the population, this plant has been re-categorized to an endangered (EN) species in the red list.

Northern moonwort and Moonwort are two very small species that are hard to observe. They live underground, and do not always have leaves above ground. Both have previously been found in Bockfjorden, and only one specimen of the Northern moonwort. This species was not found during field work in 2007 and 2009, and it is a possibility that it no longer exists in Bockfjorden.

Low sandworts (Arenaria humifusa)

Low sandworts (Arenaria humifusa) in Bockfjorden, Svalbard. Photo: Inger Greve Alsos/

Moonwort has only been found in Bockfjorden, where it was discovered in 1974. In 2009, 21 leaves were observed, estimated to be about 75 % of total leaf production.

This population is threatened by tourists wandering in the area, and by heavy goose grazing. Both species are still labeled Endangered on the red list.

A species of Alkali grass (Puccinellia angustata ssp. palibinii) has previously been observed in small numbers in Bockfjorden. During UNIS course field work in 2009, a population of about 1000 specimen were found in the area.

The identity of the species is uncertain, but it probably belongs to the same taxa as some large populations of Alkali grass found in Wijdefjorden. The species has now been removed from the red list awaiting results of ongoing taxonomical studies.

The two last red listed plant species found in Bockfjorden, Low Sandworts (Arenaria humifusa) and Mountain eyebright (Euphrasia wettsteinii), were observed in quite large quantities. However, these species retain the same categorization on the red list as before.

Other, rare species in Svalbard
UNIS biology students have made observations of other, rare species in Svalbard. Glacier Crowfoot (Beckwithia glacialis) are only known from a few locations in southwestern Spitsbergen.

In 2008, the AB-201 course had field work in Sørkapp (southern tip of Spitsbergen) and counted about 300 specimens of glacier crowfoot, and estimated the population to be twice the size. In the updated red list, the species retain the vulnerable (VU) status. This plant will probably thrive if the amount of precipitation in Svalbard increases.

Arctic rush (Juncus arcticus) is only known from Nathorst valley. It was first sampled in 1924, but not re-registered in the area until 2009, when the UNIS course AB-326 performed field work in the area. Its status as vulnerable (VU) is kept on the new red list.

Changes in Red List Categories (RLC) for plant species in Bockfjorden:

Norwegian names English names Latin names RLC 2006 RLC 2010
Fjellmarinøkkel Northern Moonwort Botrychium boreale Critically endangered (CR) Critically endangered (CR)
Marinøkkel Moonwort Botrychium lunaria CR CR
Polarhårstarr Hair Sedge Carex capillaris ssp. fuscidula CR Vulnerable (VU)
Kildesaltgras Alkali grass Puccinellia sp. CR Removed
Trefingerurt Sibbaldia Sibbaldia procumbens CR Endangered (EN)
Fjelløyentrøst Mountain Eyebright Euphrasia wettsteinii EN EN
Dvergarve Low Sandworts Arenaria humifusa VU VU
Bjønnbrodd Scottish Asphodel Tofieldia pusilla Near threatened (NT) Least concern (LC)


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