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Netherlands Polar Data Center

Project - Ecological consequences of four hundred years resource exploitation on Svalbard

Summary

Recent historical and archaeological publications indicate that resource exploitation in Svalbard has caused serious changes in the local natural environment. The exploitation has reduced populations, changed food chains, fertility and vegetation and thus ecosystems. Game animals have been reduced in number making food available for other creatures that were thus enabled to increase in number. The vegetation around the whaling stations and trapper cabins has changed in composition and expanded dramatically because of fertilization caused by the remains of killed animals. At certain places mining has destroyed the local landscape and domestic animals introduced by miners have fertilized and changed the tundra vegetation in and around the settlements. In this way four hundred years of resource exploitation has changed the pristine Arctic ecosystems in Svalbard enormously. \x0AHowever, biologists rarely take the consequences of resource exploitation into account and consider the current ecosystems as being the original systems. In Environmental Impact Assessments the recent ecosystems are used as the starting point.\x0AThat is why in this post-doc project a retrospective study is proposed to provide an indication of the effects of four centuries of hunting, whaling and mining on the three main ecosystems on the west coast of Spitsbergen. This research will use historical documents, and the (bio)archaeological objects and historical sites studied recently as the main sources of information. Within the core program the outcome of this synthesis will be compared with the results of the investigation of the size of the historical population based on genetic markers.

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