Terrestrial Mammals of the Arctic

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Facts on File
excerpts from pages
118, 121-22, 173-74
The total number of species of land mammals occurring in the Arctic is 48 (Appendix 2 shows their distribution in the Soviet Union, North America and Greenland). The nomenclature used here follows Corbet (1978) for the Soviet Union (with minor chages as indicated) and Chapman and Feldhamer (1982) for North America and Greenland. The number of species occurring in each country is Canada 31, Alaska 29, Soviet Union 33 and Greenland 9. It can be seen that out of a world total of about 4,000 species, the variety of terrestrial mammals in the Arctic is low and consists of slightly modified shrews, hares, rodents, wolves, foxes, bears and deer.

Some Aspects of Distribution
According to Guthrie (1968), the number of small mammal species present in the tundra seems to have increased considerably since the glaciations of the late Pleistocene, primarily by immigration from more southern locations, while the number of large mammals has declined.

It can be seen that four groups of small mammals (shrews, hares, sciurid rodents and microtene rodents) occur regularly in Arctic tundra, although their distribution does not always correspond entirely to the distribution of that habitat. Some of the species are tundra-specific and, according to Hoffman and Taber (1968), evolved in central Eurasia during the early pleistocene and migrated to North America.

Population Cycles
Long-term mammalian population cycles have been proposed for several parts of the world, but in the Arctic and Subarctic two cycles stand out partcularly clearly: the Snowshoe Hare and the Lynx cycle with a periodicity of about ten years in the boreal forest of the New World, and 4-year cycles for several species of voles and lemmings in the tundra zone around the world (and in some grasslands in lower lattitudes). The best known 3-4 year cycles is that of the Brown Lemming. Detailed discussion of population cycles will be found in Batzli et al (1980), Finerty (1980), Remmert (1980), Southern (1979) and Stoddart (1979). It should be noted that the interval between successive peaks may vary within small limits, and that the regularity of the cycles refers only to the intervals between peaks. The individual peaks may not, of course, necessarily be of the same amplitude. The cycles are typically assymetrical, with populations declining at a greater rate than they increase. As stated by Crawley (1983), there is strong evidence that herbivore population cycles are caused by plant-herbivore interactions (rather than by predator-prey, disease-host, or plant-enivornment interactions).

Soviet UnionAlaska CanadaGreenland
Snowshoe Hare Lepus americanus (c) -- X X --
Arctic Hare Lepus arcticus (d) -- -- X X
Alaskan (Tundra) Hare Lepus othus (d) -- X -- --
Varying Hare Lepus timidus (d) X -- -- --
Northern Pika Ochotona hyperborea (e) X -- -- --
Alaska Marmot Marmota broweri -- X ? (f) --
Black-capped Marmot Marmota camtschatica X -- -- --
Arctic Ground Squirrel Spermophilus undulatus (h) X X X --
Insular (Singing) Vole Microtus abreviatus (j) -- X X --
Narrow-skulled Vole Microtus gregalis X -- -- --
Middendorf's Vole Microtus Middendorffi (k) X -- -- --
Tundra (Root) Vole Microtus pennsylvanicus X X X --
Arctic (Collared) Lemming Dicrostonyx groenlandicus (m) X X X X
Hudson Bay Lemming Dicrostonyx hudsonius -- -- X --
Brown (Siberian) Lemming Lemmus sibiricus X X X --
Grey Red-backed Vole Clethrionomys rufocanus X -- -- --
Northern Red-backed Vole Clethrionomys rutilus X X X --
Eothenomys lemminus (n) X -- -- --
European Water Vole Arvicola terestris (o)X -- -- --
Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus -- X --
Porcupine Erethrizon dorsatum (p) -- X X --
Coyote Canis latrans -- X X --
Gray Wolf Canis Lupus X X X X
Red Fox Vulpes vulpesX X X --
Arctic Fox Alopex lagopusX X X X
Grizzly Bear Ursus arctosX (o) X X --
Polar Bear Ursus maritimusX X X X
Ermine (Stoat) Mustela ermineaX X X X
Least Weasel Mustela nivalisX X X --
European Mink Mustela nivalisX (o) -- -- --
American Mink Mustela vison-- X (p) X (p) --
Wolverine Gulo gulo X X X X
River Otter Lutra canadensis -- X (p) X (q) --
Lynx Lynx canadensis -- X (q) X (p) --
Moose Alces alcesX (s) X X --
Caribou (Reindeer) Rangifer tarandus X X X X
Muskox Ovibos moschatus (t) X X X X
Dali Sheep Ovis dalli -- X X --
Snow Sheep Ovis nivicola (u) X -- -- --
Total Species 33 29 31 9

a. Includes Sorex tundrensis regarded by some authors as a separate species.
b. Of marginal occurrence on the tundra in north-east Siberia.
c. Only occurs on the Arctic tundra when populations are high.
d. Corbet (1978) treats all three as races of one species (Lepis timidus), but Chapman and Feldhamer (1982) recognize three species, although commenting that L. timidus and L. othus may be conspecific.
e. Included by Corbet (1978) under Ochotona alpina, but here treated as a separate species.
f. The eastern limit of this species' range is not known with certainty.
g. According to Corbet (1978) this species does not occur on the Chukotka Peninsula, but Ognev (1963) clearly states that it does occur there.
h. Corbet (1978) regards spermophilus undulatus and S. parryi as separate species, with the latter being the tundra form of north-east Siberia and the North American Arctic, but Chapman and Feldhamer (1982) refer the North American populations to S. undulatus and consider this to be conspecific with S. parryi.
j. Includes the Singing Vole Microtus miurus regarded by some authorites as a separate species.
k. Includes Microtus hyperboreus of the Siberian alpine tundra.
m. This is the same species as Dicrostonyx torquatus of some authors.
n. Little seems to be known about this vole. According to Corbet (1978) it occurs in north-east Siberia from the mouth of the Lena River east to the Anadyr region.
o. The range of this species just reaches the siuthern edge of the tundra.
p. Occassionally seen on the Arctic slope of Alaska, and on the tundra north of the treeline in Canada.
q. Only marginal occurrence on the tundra.
r. Only a vagrant north of the Brooks Range in Alaska.
s. Primarily a coniferous forest species in Eurasia.
t. Introduced to Svalbard in 1929, and to the Taimyr Peninsula and Wrangel Island in the mid-1970s.
u. May be conspecific with Ovis dalli. Occurs in the mountains of north-east Siberia east of the Lena River, and there is an isolated population in the Putorana Mountains east of the mouth of the Yenesei River.

Sources: Banfield (1974), Bee and Hall (1956), Chapman and Feldhamer (1982) and Corbet (1978).

Brian Sage worked for 21 years as an oil industry ecologist, spending three years in Alaska. He is now an independent Wildlife Consultant and author of several books including Alaska and its Wildlife and, with Eric Hosking, Antarctic Wildlife, also published by Facts on File.

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