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‘Arctic Crashes:’ Revisiting the Human-Animal Disequilibrium Model in a Time of Rapid Change

Krupnik, Igor
Human ecology 2018 v.46 no.5 pp. 685-700
Anthropocene epoch, Odobenus rosmarus, Rangifer tarandus, Ursus maritimus, climatic factors, ecotones, global warming, habitats, human-wildlife relations, humans, ice, indigenous peoples, models, reindeer, society, temperature, Arctic region
The paper introduces a new vision advanced by the recent project, Arctic People and Animal Crashes: Human, Climate and Habitat Agency in the Anthropocene (2014–2015) developed at the Smithsonian Institution. Unlike earlier top-down models of polar animal-climate-people connections that tied changes in Arctic species’ abundance and ranges to alternating warmer and cooler temperatures or high ice/low sea-ice regimes, rapid animal declines (‘crashes’) may be better approached at regional and local scales. This approach is close to Arctic peoples’ traditional vision that animals, like people, live in ‘tribes’ and that they ‘come and go’ according to their relations with the local human societies. As the Arctic changes rapidly and climate/sea-ice/ecotone boundaries shift, we see diverse responses by Arctic people and animals to environmental stressors. I examine recent data on the status of three northern mammal species – caribou/reindeer, Pacific walrus, and polar bear—during two decades of the ongoing Arctic warming. The emerging record may be best approached as a series of local human-animal disequilibria interpreted from different angles by population biologists, indigenous peoples, and anthropologists, rather than a top-down climate-induced ‘crash.’ Such new understanding implies the varying speed of change in the physical, animal, and human domains, which was not factored in the earlier models of climate–animal–people’s interactions.