For the first time since 2010, the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre has an updated version of its red list.
Of the 487 assessed species in Svalbard, 103 are on the list of animals, lichen and plants facing existential threats. Of these, 55 are categorized as endangered, which by definition has an "extremely high risk of extinction if the current conditions persist."
Eight of them are birds.
"Many birds are in decline," said Snorre Henriksen, a consultant at the biodiversity center. "This is a trend we also see on the mainland. Something has happened to food availability."
"They have fewer young and the survival rate goes down," Henriksen said. "We see that in several species, especially those who make their living at sea."
New this year is the common guillemot is now listed as threatened.
In addition, glaucous gulls, kittiwakes and Brünnich's (thick-billed) guillemots - three important and traditionally abundant species in Svalbard - are considered near threatened.
The reclassifications are due to the declining population of the species. Hallvard Strøm, an ecology researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute, said that's worrisome.
"The Brünnich's guillemot population is going down in all colonies where there is monitoring and it has probably halved over the last 15 years," he said. "It is a key species that makes up many of the great bird cliffs and is a major transporter of nutrients."
The decline was apparently not due to conditions in Svalbard, but climate change in areas where they stay during winter.
"That is near Iceland and the southern tip of Greenland," Strøm said. "We are finding a strong link between rising ocean temperatures and reduced survival. Warmer water gives them poorer access to food."
Seabirds on the mainland have long been in decline, while Svalbard appears to have been mostly spared large population declines.
That time may be over, according to the researcher.
"It may appear as if the changes are coming creeping upwards," he said.
Species on the red list are recognized on the basis of different criteria.
Some are listed simply because they are rare and only live in a confined area, and some because the population curve is pointing steeply downward.
"Some species are red listed because they are rare and are therefore vulnerable since they are few in number," Strøm said. "What worries me the most is when numerous and common species are diminishing since they have a central role in the ecosystem."
"When kittiwakes, glaucous gulls and Brünnich's guillemots experience a stock reduction it is a sign that there are major changes," he said.
Henriksen said a warmer ocean may, among other things, cause changes in the movement and spawning patterns of prey such as fish.
"For example, juveniles and larvae which drift with the current will pass the bird cliffs at different times than before," he said.
Flight of cod
Another example of change is the Arctic cod's entry on the red list after "a tremendous setback" of between 15 and 30 percent during the past ten years.
This small fish is a critical food source for birds and other sea animals in Svalbard.
"Arctic cod has shifted over toward the northeast and the stock has dropped sharply along west Spitsbergen," Henriksen said. "That is a good benchmark for the ecosystem."
Furthermore, a wide range of vascular plants and lichens are on the red list with, respectively, 69 and 23 species.
By far the vast majority are listed because they're unusual and limited to a small range, making them vulnerable to external influences.
One of many examples is the alchemilla glomerulans ("lady's mantles"), a perennial herb classified as critically endangered on the red list.
There are fewer than 50 reproductive specimens in Svalbard, limited to one valley at the weather station on Bjørnøya.
Various vegetation species react differently to changes in temperature.
"It can turn out both positively and negatively. Some plants will come out ahead with a warmer climate," said Henriksen. But he emphasized some of the rarest species are adversely affected by increased grazing of reindeer or geese.
Because, unlike many sea and shore birds, pink-footed geese are among those experiencing happy times and booming populations in Svalbard.
"These plants cannot tolerate large changes before they disappear," Henriksen said.
The University Centre in Svalbard received a 308,000 kroner grant this week for a research project investigating how geese and temperatures are affecting vegetation.
"Geese are coming up here in large numbers. They fertilize well while they graze. What effect does that have?" asked Morten Ruud, chairman of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund, which provided the grant.
Among mammals, seals, walruses and polar bears are listed as vulnerable, all based on low populations in a limited habitat.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini