Climate change is resulting in a warming of the Arctic climate. No one can be certain of the nature or extent that climate change will have on the Arctic marine ecosystem until it happens, though scientists can make predictions.

Refer to the photos and text provided below and draw comparison diagrams of the Arctic marine ecosystem as it is today and how it will be 100 years from now.

Instructions

I. Singly, or in pairs, students will draw a diagram of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Using creativity, include: at least four trophic levels ten groups of organisms labels for all organisms some indication of relative abundance of organisms representation of the relationships between organisms

II. Draw a parallel diagram of the organisms in the Arctic marine ecosystem in the 22nd century. Use your imagination, but be sure you can back up the differences between the two diagrams with reasoning and logic that is based in fact.

III. Create a chart that describes the differences between the two diagrams, and includes the l Read More

Climate change is resulting in a warming of the Arctic climate. No one can be certain of the nature or extent that climate change will have on the Arctic marine ecosystem until it happens, though scientists can make predictions.

Refer to the photos and text provided below and draw comparison diagrams of the Arctic marine ecosystem as it is today and how it will be 100 years from now.

Instructions

I. Singly, or in pairs, students will draw a diagram of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Using creativity, include:

  • at least four trophic levels
  • ten groups of organisms
  • labels for all organisms
  • some indication of relative abundance of organisms
  • representation of the relationships between organisms

II. Draw a parallel diagram of the organisms in the Arctic marine ecosystem in the 22nd century. Use your imagination, but be sure you can back up the differences between the two diagrams with reasoning and logic that is based in fact.

III. Create a chart that describes the differences between the two diagrams, and includes the logic and reasoning behind all your predictions.

Extensions

I. Using your diagrams, communicate your prediction to others. Use one of these options or invent your own:

  • photocopy your diagrams onto overheads and orally present to your class
  • create a PowerPoint presentation with your diagrams, showing the changes, step-by-step
  • expand your diagrams to fill up a large poster
  • create large, full-colour murals with your classmates for display in the classroom or hallway
  • create an animation using paper or computer to reveal the changes step-by-step
  • stage a diorama with a 3D representation of organisms and their habitats

II. Discuss with your classmates the different predictions in the class. Why do these differences exist? What implication does this have for our society’s handling of issues like climate change in the Arctic?

Further Research

I. Research scientific models that predict the changes in Arctic climate and their impact on the marine ecosystem. How do your predictions compare?

II. Research why climate change in the Arctic is considered so important on a global scale.

Teacher’s Note

There are no right or wrong answers to this activity. Success is exhibited by demonstration of an ecosystem, the use of reasoning and logic to back up predictions, and in the clear communication of those predictions.


© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

An opening in the sea ice

Canadian Museum of Nature scientist Kathy Conlan studies impacts on Arctic marine communities. Diving under the ice requires entering through a hole such as the one you can see in this photo.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Core of Arctic sea ice

In this photo you can see a core of Arctic sea ice collected by Canadian Museum of Nature scientist Michel Poulin. Michel studies algae which live on the underside of Arctic sea ice. This algae and associated microscopic life form what is referred to as the "sympagic ecosystem". Sympagic organisms live in within channels in the ice itself, or at the water interface immediately below the ice, and are a crucial food source for many marine invertebrates and Arctic cod. They are highly specialized but cover a wide taxonomic range, from bacteria and simple algae to vertebrates.

Michel Poulin

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Microscopic Phytoplankton

In this photo you can see the silica structure of diatoms, which are microscopic, single-celled algae. Diatoms are microscopic, single-celled algae which usually reside within the water column, but in the Arctic they are also found in and on the sea ice. Through photosynthesis, they reduce CO2 while releasing oxygen and producing carbohydrates. The carbohydrates are then converted into essential compounds such as proteins and nucleic acids by incorporating nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and other elements. The organic matter produced by the algae is consumed primarily by herbivorous (plant-eating) animals, mainly zooplankton, which in turn may be eaten by fish. The fish are then consumed by seabirds and mammals, including humans.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Isopod (Arcturus baffini)

Isopods form a very diverse group of Crustaceans. Arctic marine isopods such as this one are mostly carnivorous and feed on dead whales, fish, and squid; they may also be active predators of slow-moving prey such as sea cucumbers, sponges, radiolarians, nematodes and other zoobenthos. These invertebrate animals are related to the terrestrial sowbug, which can often be seen in basements or gardens. The species shown here is a suspension feeder, meaning it feeds on particles of food floating by in the water.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Amphipods (Anonyx)

Amphipods are small, shrimp-like Crustaceans. The amphipod shown here is Anonyx, a scavenger and deposit feeder. Fishermen can lose their bait or their catch in hours if Anonyx nugax is around. It can pick up vibrations and scents and home in quickly to consume dead and dying animals. The majority of amphipods in the Arctic, including the largest species Gammarus wilkitzkii, live in interstitial cavities in the sea ice and on the underside of pack ice. Amphipods are eaten by fish such as Capelin and Arctic Cod, which are very important in the diet of other fishes, marine mammals, and seabirds. Some seabirds, such as the Arctic Tern, also feed on amphipods directly, as do young seals.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Cockles (Serripes groenlandicus)

The Cockle is a bivalve, which is a group of animals in the phylum Mollusca. Bivalves are preyed upon by fish, walrus, bearded seal and several duck species. Bivalves seem to make up the most numerous group of mollusks in the Arctic deep-sea, but knowledge on species richness and distribution is limited. About 140 bivalve species are currently known from the Arctic.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Sea Slugs (Dendronotus frondosus)

Also known as a sea slug, the Nudibranch is a gastropod and a benthic carnivore. Depending on the group, they feed on hydroids, sponges, anemones, bryozoans, and other organisms.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Sea Cucumbers (Cucumaria)

Sea cucumbers are animals in the phylum Echinodermata. They are suspension and/or deposit feeders, using their branchial tree to catch food particles. They don’t look related to Sea Stars, but like Sea Stars and Sea Urchins, their radial symmetry is divided into five segments: their body has five lines running down it, while Sea Stars usually have five arms, and Urchins have five rows of tube feet.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Sea Anemone (Hormathia nodosa)

Sea anemones are animals in the Phylum Cnidaria. They typically remain attached to hard substrates such as shells or rocks, although some, such as this one, burrow into the sediment. Anemones are most diverse in the tropics, but are regularly found in the Arctic, in particular on the continental shelves. Over 200 species of cnidarians are known from Arctic waters to date, many of which are benthic or have a benthic life stage.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Sea Urchins (Strongylocentrotus pallidus)

The Sea urchin is another group of animals in the phylum Echinodermata. Eleven sea urchin species are known to exist in the Arctic. Strongylocentrotus usually lives on hard substrates and feeds by scraping off algae and encrusting animals with five teeth located in a complex organ on the underside of its shell called an ‘Aristotle’s Lantern'.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Sea Stars (Crossaster papposus)

Sea stars are animals in the phylum Echinodermata. Most sea stars are carnivorous animals whose favourite food is bivalves such as clams, cockles, mussels, or oysters. They have a unique feeding method, using their tube feet to pry open the two halves of the bivalve. Once the inner flesh is exposed, the sea star inserts its own stomach into the cavity of the bivalve, and begins secreting digestive enzymes that slowly digest the prey within its own shell.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Arctic Cod (Boreogadus saida)

Arctic cod consume mainly crustaceans, such as mysids (shrimp), amphipods and copepods, and are eaten by a variety of other large fish, as well as many seabirds and most arctic marine mammals. They spend much of their time associated with sea ice and remain in Arctic waters throughout their life cycle. The fish is a key component of the arctic food web, converting the small but lipid-rich amphipods into prey that is substantial enough to support higher vertebrates such as seabirds and marine mammals.

Kathy Conlan

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus)

Walruses overwinter in areas of pack ice where the ice is thin enough (less than 20 cm thick) to allow them to break through and maintain breathing holes, but thick enough in places to support the weight of groups of these large animals. Walruses prefer to eat molluscs, mainly bivalves such as clams and mussels, which they suck from the shells. They also consume many other kinds of benthic invertebrates including worms, gastropods, cephalopods, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, and other soft-bodied animals.

S. MacDonald

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas)

Beluga whales are commonly found in ice-covered waters where they use open water at ice-edges, leads, and polynyas to surface for breathing. They feed on crustaceans and small fishes such as Arctic cod. Like narwhals and bowhead whales, Belugas stay in the Arctic year-round.

GNWT/NWT Archives

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Ringed Seals (Pusa hispida)

Ringed seals are the most abundant seal species in the Arctic. They use the ice for breeding, molting, and resting, and rarely, if ever, move onto land. Their cone-shaped breathing holes are maintained by clawing the forming ice with robust front claws and can be found in ice up to 7 m thick. As snow drifts over the hole, a lair is hollowed out to provide some protection from cold and predators and to give birth to pups. Ringed seals have a varied diet composed primarily of shrimp-like crustaceans and small schooling fishes such as Arctic cod. Ringed seals are the main prey of polar bears, each of which catch and consume about one seal every six and a half days.

George Calef, ENR GNWT Collection.

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All rights reserved.


Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus)

The Polar bear is dependent on sea ice for most of its needs, and as a result, is often regarded as a marine mammal. Factors that influence the distribution, movement, duration, and structure of sea ice have a major impact on the population ecology of polar bears, whose diet consists mainly of ringed and bearded seals. Polar bears also occasionally feed on whales and young walruses.

S. MacDonald

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

  • Classify organisms according to their role in a food chain.
  • Describe interactions between biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem.
  • Explain how the biodiversity of an ecosystem contributes to its sustainability
  • Analyse the impact of external factors on an ecosystem
  • Use library and electronic research tools to collect information on a given topic
  • Formulate hypotheses regarding the effects of modifying the interactions that occur within a given ecosystem.

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