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Food web approach for managing arctic wildlife populations in an era of rapid environmental change

Jarad Pope Mellard*, John-André Henden, Åshild Ønvik Pedersen, Filippo Marolla, Sandra Hamel, Nigel Gilles Yoccoz, Rolf Anker Ims

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Scientists, wildlife managers implementing adaptive monitoring, and management schemes are tasked with providing predictions of populations’ responses to harvest and environmental changes. Such predictions are useful not only to forecast direct effects of climate, productivity, land use, or habitat degradation, but also changes in the food web, such as expanding/increasing species that are predators, prey, and competitors of populations of concern. Explicit consideration of food webs and their dynamics in more complex models could provide better predictions on future changes and allow us to better assess the influence of management actions. Here, we present our perspective on what we have learned from conducting a number of case studies using such a food web approach with a focus on climate and harvest impacts and their implications for management. We found empirical support for many of our hypothesized food web effects and were able in some cases to obtain short-term forecasts with slightly lower prediction error using models that account for food web dynamics compared with simpler models. Predictions are the foundation of adaptive management because they allow assessing the quantitative consequences of management actions, but evaluating predictions requires adequate and high-quality monitoring data. Results from our case studies show that a combination of long-term monitoring and different types of study designs coupled with models of adequate complexity are likely required to better understand populations’ responses to environmental changes and harvest, as well as the consequences for food webs.