The Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity Monitoring Plan- click to downloadThe Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity Monitoring Plan is the second of four pan-Arctic biodiversity monitoring plans developed by the CBMP to detect and understand the causes of long-term change in the composition, structure and function of Arctic freshwater ecosystems, i.e., rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and their associated wetlands.

This "umbrella plan" for monitoring the Arctic freshwater environment identifies existing capacity to facilitate improved cost effective monitoring through enhanced integration and coordination. This will allow for earlier detection of disturbances and provide for faster information transfer, leading to more effective and efficient policy and management response.

Find below a sample of information contained in the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity Monitoring Plan, for more information, read the whole Freshwater Plan

Objectives of the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity Monitoring Plan 

  • Develop the critical questions to be addressed for the assessment of Arctic freshwater biodiversity;

  • Identify an essential set of Focal Ecosystem Components (FECs) and indicators for freshwater ecosystems that are suited for monitoring and assessment on a circumpolar level;

  • Identify abiotic parameters that are relevant to freshwater biodiversity and need ongoing monitoring;

  • Articulate detailed impact hypotheses that describe the potential effects of stressors on FEC indicators;

  • Determine a core set of standardized protocols and optimal sampling strategies for monitoring Arctic freshwaters that draws on existing protocols and activities;

  • Create a strategy for the organization and assessment of existing research and information (scientific, community-based, and Idigenous Knowledge (IK)) to evaluate current status and trends;

  • Develop a process for undertaking periodic assessments of Arctic freshwaters including details of reporting elements and schedules; and

  • Identify the financial support and institutional arrangements required to undertake such a program. 

Arctic freshwater: where to monitor

The Freshwater Plan identifies a set of criteria for the selection of preferable monitoring sites in the high, low and sub-Arctic zones, namely:  sites with high-quality and long-term data sets, biodiversity hotspots, i.e., areas with high species richness or unique species composition (e.g., rare species) and high conservation value, medium to small river catchments and lakes to ensure effective sampling effort and representative species collection, and sites of high significance to local communities. Additional variables for consideration during the selection of sites may include water source (e.g., glacial vs. non-glacial water bodies), presence or absence of fish, and geomorphic characteristics (e.g., mean stream width, mean lake depth).
Arctic freshwater boundaries from the Arctic CouncilR17;s Arctic Biodiversity Assessment developed by CAFF, showing the three sub-regions of the Arctic, namely the high (dark purple), low (purple) and sub-Arctic (light purple), and the CAFF boundary (grey line).

Focal Ecosystem Components (FECs) and stressors

Focal Ecosystem Components (FECs) are defined as biotic or abiotic elements, such as taxa or key abiotic processes, which are ecologically pivotal, charismatic and/or sensitive to changes in biodiversity. Each of the FECs and indicators was given a rank of high, medium or low based on importance to ecosystem function and sensitivity to stressors, sampling feasibility, and data availability.


  • Fish (lakes and rivers)
  • Benthic invertebrates (lakes and rivers)
  • Zooplankton (lakes)
  • Benthic algae (lakes and rivers)
  • Phytoplankton (lakes)
  • Macrophytes (lakes)
  • Riparian vegetation (rivers)
  • Aquatic birds (lakes)


  • Water temperature regime (lakes and rivers)
  • Hydrologic and ice regimes (lakes and rivers)
  • Water quality (lakes and rivers)
  • Climatic regime (lakes and rivers)
  • Permafrost (lakes and rivers)

Fifteen environmental and anthropogenic stressor types were identified as most likely having a strong impact on FECs

  • Atmospheric deposition of short and long range contaminants
  • Atmospheric deposition of SOx and NOx (acidification)
  • Thermal regime change
  • Hydrological regime change
  • Sediment regime change
  • Wind regime change
  • UV radiation regime change
  • Increased nutrient loading
  • Shift in nutrient and contaminant levels due to biotic vectors
  • Fisheries over-harvesting
  • Resource exploration and exploitation
  • Transportation and utility corridors
  • Flow alteration
  • Increased agricultural activity
  • Introduction of alien genetic types

Criteria used to select the parameters and indicators

  • Sensitivity to environmental or anthropogenic stressors;
  • Scientific validity and relevance;
  • Sustainability and relevance in a monitoring capacity;
  • Availability of targets and thresholds; and
  • Practicality

Sampling protocols

A common and feasible sampling approach that includes protocols and field and laboratory guidelines for comparable standardized sampling and analysis is required for the success of a pan-Arctic monitoring program. Because Arctic countries have existing protocols established by national or regional authorities, the methods outlined the the Freshwater plan were based on existing protocols wherever possible. Such a foundation allows for the harmonization of diverse programs with minimal methodological changes, and will facilitate the comparison of historical and new monitoring data. For full details on sampling protocols, see Appendix C in the Freshwater Plan.

Data management

The CBMP data management objectives are focused on: developing datamanagement systems that facilitate improved access to existing and current biodiversity data and integration of these data among disciplines, while maintaining data holders ownership and control of the data.

Biodiversity data sources and formats vary widely across the Arctic. Thus, it will be challenging to access, aggregate, and depict the immense, widely-distributed, and diverse amount of this freshwater biodiversity data from the many contributors involved in this monitoring. A related challenge is to integrate and correlate this information with other relevant data (e.g., physical, chemical, etc.) to better understand the possible causes driving biodiversity trends at various scales (regional to global). Furthermore, it is critical to deliver this information in effective and flexible reporting formats to facilitate decision-making at a variety of scales from local to international. Meeting these challenges will significantly improve policy and management decisions through better and timelier access to current, accurate, and integrated information on biodiversity trends and their underlying causes at multiple scales. 

For information on the Arctic Biodiversity Freshwater Monitoring Plan, and all other CAFF activities, please visit the Arctic Biodiversity Data Service (ABDS).




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