Transport of marine pollution from bird cliffs to tundra communities in Svalbard (completed)

Only few studies in the Canadian arctic have studied the transport of marine pollution from seabirds to terrestrial communities in Svalbard, and to our knowledge no studies have been undertaken on Svalbard, although toxicological effect has been found in fish from affected lakes.

About the project

In addition to long-range transport of contaminants to Arctic areas, biotransport from sea to land has been shown to be a source of distribution for pollutants to certain parts of terrestrial food webs. Seabirds represent an important biovector for contaminants due to their extended habitats along coastlines globally, and the large number of individuals gathering in dense colonies during the breeding season. Lipophilic and persistent contaminants can bioconcentrate and biomagnify up the trophic levels and high concentrations of contaminants are found in birds at high trophic levels.

“Hot spots” of contaminants in Arctic lakes have been associated with migrating seabirds, and contaminant transfer in birds is very efficient, most likely due to the combined effect of biomagnification and biotransport in seabirds. Persistent organic pollutants from seabirds have been shown to affect fish population in Arctic areas, some levels being even higher than Arctic top predators.

The community of invertebrates plays a central role in important polar ecosystem processes, including nutrient cycling, energy flow, decomposition, herbivory, pollination and parasitism. Among the invertebrates in soil- environments in the Arctic, the order Collembola is often more abundant and diverse compared to other groups. The contribution by Collembolans to decomposition and mineralization of plant material in Arctic terrestrial ecosystems is thought to be vital. The population density of Collembolans may reach a very high level, and in the nutrient-rich substrates close to seabird colonies, levels of 600 000 individuals/m2 are reported in Svalbard, and twice that size in Novaya Zemlya.

In ecotoxicological studies, Collembolans are frequently used as model organisms due to their (among others) characteristics of small body size, abundance, easy sampling and maintenance, and the rich literature on the group. Due to knowledge gap between laboratory tests and the difficulty in the prediction of true risk in nature, combined studies of population effects in the field, and analyses of sub-lethal effects in laboratory studies would be of high interest to increase our understanding of both direct, and indirect effects of contaminants.


The objectives are:

  • To examine the presence and levels of contaminants in terrestrial communities close to bird cliffs, compared to areas not exposed to seabird guano, to establish if there is indication of impact by the seabird guano on tundra communities.
  • To determine whether terrestrial invertebrates (Collembolans) in the vicinity of bird cliffs accumulate persistent organic pollutants, and if the Collembolans are affected on a sub-lethal level that can be detected at a sub-cellular level (such as DNA damage or membrane stability), and if this is reflected in Collembola community measures (e.g. abundance).


Norsk Polarinstitutt


Tags: Toxicology, Svalbard
Published Oct. 26, 2020 2:29 PM - Last modified Oct. 26, 2020 2:30 PM


Project leader:

Katrine Borgå