The Arctic is currently experiencing dramatic ecosystem changes, with immediate effects on ecosystem services connected to food production, climate regulation, natural resources and cultural integrity. Understanding the relative impacts of climate, herbivory and human management on ecosystems, in particular on vegetation, is of paramount importance for their long term sustainability (conservation) as well as for the well-being of indigenous communities across the circumpolar North. These communities directly depend on herding and hunting large herbivores, such as reindeer/caribou and are already struggling to adapt to the effects of climate warming and correlated changes in vegetation.
Well-informed ecosystem management and species conservation is however precluded by the scarcity of long-term (millennia) data sets spanning ancient and contemporary climatic and land use events. Palaeorecords offer a unique possibility to fill this gap as they provide data on long-term ecosystem development, historic events of climate change and land use modification. These long-term records provide the basis for developing transdisciplinary scenarios that are ‘ground-truthed’ and refined by the inclusion of local community observations and knowledge extending back decades and generations.
By coupling indigenous and scientific analyses and interpretations, fine-grained and broad spatio-temporal scales, and qualitative and quantitative data sets, scenarios will be created that support decision-making in the face of accelerating socio-ecological transformations throughout the circumpolar North.