Avian Vectors of Invertebrate Faunas (AVIFauna)



The insect, spider and mite fauna of Svalbard numbers over 500 species.  This high Arctic archipelago hence has a diverse invertebrate fauna.  This fauna is vital in how ecosystems function, playing key roles in, for example, nutrient cycling and the formation of organic soils required plants.  However, the history of invertebrate colonization of the Arctic following the last glacial maxima is unclear. It is likely that few, if any, invertebrate species survived the glaciation in situ but that all re-invaded  the Arctic during the recent Holocene, that is, the past 10,000 years.  Several routes by which the fauna could have arrived in Svalbard have been proposed, for example rafting, aerial plankton, with human traffic and birds. Human traffic which has a not inconsiderable role to play in plant colonization in the Arctic has clear significance in invertebrate colonization events in the maritime Antarctic and may also be important in the spread of invertebrates in the Arctic.  The remaining methods include two which are random, wind and ocean, and one which is directed, bird migration. 


The AVIFauna project was commenced in June 2011.  This project aims to describe and quantify the role of bird phoresy, that is hitch-hiking with birds, in the dispersal and colonization of high latitudes by soil invertebrates which are not normally considered to be phoretic, primarily soil  mites and springtails  It is widely accepted that that these soil dwelling creatures may accidentally attach themselves to birds and so may be spread to new localities during foraging of their inadvertent host or, perhaps more importantly, during bird migration events.  It was hence generally assumed however that the incidence of these animals on birds was low since the soil animals would try and leave the ‘host’ at the first opportunity and return to their ‘normal’ habitat.  However, new work published during the last four years has indicated that these invertebrates are often very common on the birds.Indeed, there is evidence that they may complete whole lifecycles on the birds. While remaining controversial, this theory does have some substance.  Conditions under the feathers and close to the skin would seem to be ideal for these soil organisms being warm, protected  and with  ample food supply in the form of dead organic matter (sloughed skin flakes) and fungal hyphae, both of which form the natural food types for these animals in the soil.  Nonetheless, to date there has been no concerted effort to determine the importance of this dispersal to the creation of Arctic soil animal diversity. 


For more information see thethese two articles:-





("On borrowed wings" and "Flying without wings" written by International Innovation is the leading global dissemination resource for the wider scientific, technology and research communities, dedicated to disseminating the latest science, research and technological innovations on a global level. More information and a complimentary subscription offer to the publication can be found at: www.researchmedia.eu)


AVIFauna team in Ny-Ålesund June 2011. Left to right, Torstein Solhøy, Dariusz J. Gwiazdowicz, Natalia V. Lebedeva, Steve J. Coulson, Hanne E. Pilskog & Elena Melekhina



    Geir Wing Gabrielsen         Maarten J.J.E. Loonen           Arne Fjellberg               Dmitry I. Vodolazhsky              Anastasia Taskaeva





20.6.13 Fieldwork on the final season of the project commences in Ny-Ålesund.


17.7.2012 Fieldwork in Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund has ended


18.6.2012 Homepage founded and fieldwork

AVIFauna at UNIS