Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

A Panarctic Flora Project - the Species Concept in the High North


Former 1998/1999 Natural Sciences - Medicine - Mathematics

End Report

Much of the Arctic consists today of pristine or only slightly modified ecosystems where indigenous people still maintain traditional values and life styles. It is an important source of oil and gas in an energy-hungry world, and it is therefore subject to perturbations associated with these extractive industries. Arctic landscapes are sensitive to geomorphic disturbances and communities once destroyed are difficult to reproduce. Projections by general models of climate change continue to show the Arctic as the region where the effects of change will be felt first, and our ability to achieve conservation and management objectives in the Arctic presumes a detailed knowledge of biodiversity for monitoring, as a baseline against which changes can be measured and evaluated.

The aims for our year at CAS have been:

  • To establish an extended, truly panarctic network and to reinvigorate the Panarctic Flora (PAF) project, a task that is urgent if we are to understand the distribution and conservation of botanical diversity in the Arctic.
  • To define “the Arctic” for the purpose of a scientific flora, and to decide upon zonal and sectorial subdivisions; to reach a consensus species concept by which to unify Russian, American, and West European traditions, which have, to this point, been highly divergent.
  • To start the concrete work on a number of difficult plant groups where it is obvious that the different traditions have led to incompatible solutions.
  • To formalise project structure, elect steering committee and editorial board, etc., in order to guarantee the fulfilling of, firstly, a consensus check-list and, secondly, a full scientific flora.

During the CAS project, the Panarctic Flora Project was re-established, and an extensive network of American, Nordic and Russian botanists has been created, an important and necessary step to understand the distribution and conservation of botanical diversity in the Arctic.

Consensus has been obtained as how to delimitate the Arctic for Flora purposes: The project will mainly follow the proposal by Yurtzev (1994, in J. Veg. Sci), but will add some North Atlantic areas in Russia, parts of the north coast of Kola peninsula from north of the Ponoj area west to outer Rybachi peninsula; in Norway the outermost parts of the northeastern peninsulas and islands from Varanger Peninsula west to Magerøya; in Iceland the northernmost peninsulas, and all of Greenland except for two small and clearly boreal enclaves in the south. It was also agreed upon about 20 plant geographical sectors and 5 bioclimatical zones. The nomenclature is still being discussed

A consensus species concept has been the most contentious issue, and even if controversities remain, a big step forward has been taken, exemplified by a jointly authoured paper “An operational species concept for the panarctic Flora” by Elven, Jonsell, Murray, Nordal and Yurtsev.

Concrete taxonomical work on a series of complicated plant groups has been undertaken: Cerastium, Draba, grasses, Dryas, Papaver, Potentilla, Salix, and Saxifraga. In some groups, e.g. Cerastium, Draba, Salix, and Saxifraga. We are close to panarctic consensus.

The project is formalised and steering committee and editorial board have established. As to the work on the checklist, a draft has been presented (from Russian botanists) covering nearly 50 % of the Panarctic Flora. Editing of and discussions on the draft checklists has meant a huge amount of work, and has broken the “log-jam” that had brought phase 1 of the project to a near standstill. The work thus accomplished is an unprecedented integration of the latest information contributed   by   specialists   from   several   participating countries.

The aims of the year at the CAS has been fulfilled. A new start for the Panarctic Flora Project has been achieved; without the Panarctic Year and the full support of CAS throughout, this never could have happened


  • Aiken, Susan Graham
    Dr. Canadian Museum of Nature 1998/1999
  • Elvebakk, Arve
    Associate Professor UiT The Arctic University of Norway (UiT) 1998/1999
  • Jonsell, Bengt Edvard
    Professor Royal Swedish Academy of Science 1998/1999
  • Kristinsson, Hördur
    Dr. Icelandic Institute of Natural History 1998/1999
  • Murray, David F.
    Professor/Curator em. University of Alaska Museum 1998/1999
  • Petrovsky, Vladislav Vladimir
    Senior Research Assistant Russian Academy of Sciences 1998/1999
  • Razzhivin, Volodya Yu
    Research Fellow Russian Academy of Sciences 1998/1999
  • Yurtsev, Boris Aleksandrovioz
    Professor Russian Academy of Science 1998/1999

Group leader

  • Reidar Elven

    Title Professor Institution University of Oslo (UiO) Year at CAS 1998/1999
  • Inger Nordal

    Title Professor Institution University of Oslo (UiO) Year at CAS 1998/1999