Effective societal responses to rapid climate change in the Arctic rely on an accurate representation of region-specific ecosystem properties and processes. However, this is limited by the scarcity and patchy distribution of field measurements. Here, we use a comprehensive, geo-referenced database of primary field measurements in 1,840 published studies across the Arctic to identify statistically significant spatial biases in field sampling and study citation across this globally important region. We find that 31% of all study citations are derived from sites located within 50 km of just two research sites: Toolik Lake in the USA and Abisko in Sweden. Furthermore, relatively colder, more rapidly warming and sparsely vegetated sites are under-sampled and under-recognized in terms of citations, particularly among microbiology-related studies. The poorly sampled and cited areas, mainly in the Canadian high-Arctic archipelago and the Arctic coastline of Russia, constitute a large fraction of the Arctic ice-free land area. Our results suggest that the current pattern of sampling and citation may bias the scientific consensuses that underpin attempts to accurately predict and effectively mitigate climate change in the region. Further work is required to increase both the quality and quantity of sampling, and incorporate existing literature from poorly cited areas to generate a more representative picture of Arctic climate change and its environmental impacts.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
ACIA Impacts of a Warming Arctic (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2004).
Larsen, J. N. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C.B. et al.) 1567–1612 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, New York, 2014).
Rustad, L. et al. A meta-analysis of the response of soil respiration, net nitrogen mineralization, and aboveground plant growth to experimental ecosystem warming. Oecologia 126, 543–562 (2001).
Tape, K., Sturm, M. & Racine, C. The evidence for shrub expansion in northern Alaska and the pan-Arctic effects of temperature and substrate quality on element mineralization in six Arctic soils. Glob. Change Biol. 12, 686–702 (2006).
Nadelhoffer, K. J., Giblin, A. E., Shaver, G. R. & Laundre, J. A. Effects of temperature and substrate quality on element mineralization in six Arctic soils. Ecology 72, 242–253 (1991).
Walker, M. D. et al. Plant community responses to experimental warming across the tundra biome. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 103, 1342–1346 (2006).
Nuttal, P. Protecting the Arctic: Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Survival (Harwood Academic, Amsterdam, 1998).
Martin, L. J., Blossey, B. & Ellis, E. Mapping where ecologists work: biases in the global distribution of terrestrial ecological observations. Front. Ecol. Environ. 10, 195–201 (2012).
Magliocca, N. R. et al. Synthesis in land change science: methodological patterns, challenges, and guidelines. Reg. Environ. Change 15, 211–226 (2015).
Sotomayor, D. A. & Lortie, C. J. Indirect interactions in terrestrial plant communities: emerging patterns and research gaps. Ecosphere 6, 103 (2015).
Bellard, C. & Jeschke, J. M. A spatial mismatch between invader impacts and research publications. Conserv. Biol. 30, 230–232 (2016).
Dos Santos, J. G., Malhado, A. C. M., Ladle, R. J., Correia, R. A. & Costa, M. H. Geographic trends and information deficits in Amazonian conservation research. Biol. Conserv. 24, 2853–2863 (2015).
Human Health in the Arctic (AMAP, Oslo, 2009).
Petersen, A. M. et al. Reputation and impact in academic careers. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 15316–15321 (2013).
Hijmans, R. J., Cameron, S. E., Parra, J. L., Jones, P. G. & Jarvis, A. Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas. Int. J. Clim. 25, 1965–1978 (2005).
Taylor, K. E. et al. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2011).
Zhu, Z. et al. Global data sets of vegetation leaf area index (LAI) 3g and fraction of photosynthetically active radiation (FPAR) 3g derived from global inventory modeling and mapping studies (GIMMS) normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI3g) for the period 1981 to 2011. Remote Sens. 5, 927–948 (2013).
Myneni, R. B. et al. Global products of vegetation leaf area and fraction absorbed PAR from year one of MODIS data. Remote Sens. Environ. 83, 214–231 (2002).
Post, E. et al. Ecological dynamics across the Arctic associated with recent climate change. Science 325, 1365–1358 (2009).
La Puma, I. P. et al. Relating NDVI to ecosystem CO2 exchange patterns in response to season length and soil warming manipulations in Arctic Alaska. Remote Sens. Environ. 109, 225–236 (2007).
Myers-Smith, I. H. et al. Climate sensitivity of shrub growth across the tundra biome. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 887–891 (2015).
Hugelius, G. et al. A new data set for estimating organic carbon storage to 3 m depth in soils of the northern circumpolar permafrost region. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 5, 393–402 (2013).
Burke, E. J., Hartley, I. P. & Jones, C. D. Uncertainties in the global temperature change caused by carbon release from permafrost thawing. Cryosphere 6, 1063–1076 (2012).
Shaver, G. R. & Jonasson, S. Response of Arctic ecosystems to climate change: results of long-term field experiments in Sweden and Alaska. Polar Res. 18, 245–252 (1999).
Hughes, B. B. et al. Long-term studies contribute disproportionately to ecology and policy. BioScience 67, 271–281 (2017).
Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J. & Altman, D. G. & the PRISMA Group. Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. PLoS Med. 6, e1000097 (2009).
Getis, A. & Ord, J. K. The analysis of spatial association by use of distance statistics. Geogr. Anal. 24, 189–206 (1992).
Ord, J. K. & Getis, A. Local spatial autocorrelation statistics: distributional issues and an application. Geogr. Anal. 27, 286–306 (1995).
This work was supported by an Action Group grant awarded to D.B.M. (F 2016 / 668) by the Lund University Strategic Research Area ‘biodiversity and ecosystem services in a changing climate’. The manuscript benefitted from comments made by B. Smith and T. Christensen (Lund University), and help with analysis from S. Olsson (Lund University).
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Metcalfe, D.B., Hermans, T.D.G., Ahlstrand, J. et al. Patchy field sampling biases understanding of climate change impacts across the Arctic. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1443–1448 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0612-5
Unexpected greening in a boreal permafrost peatland undergoing forest loss is partially attributable to tree species turnover
Global Change Biology (2021)
Volatile organic compound emission in tundra shrubs – Dependence on species characteristics and the near-surface environment
Environmental and Experimental Botany (2021)
Limnology and Oceanography (2021)
Trade-offs Between Wood and Leaf Production in Arctic Shrubs Along a Temperature and Moisture Gradient in West Greenland
Increasing climatic sensitivity of global grassland vegetation biomass and species diversity correlates with water availability
New Phytologist (2021)