In the past years, Filatelia has issued several stamps devoted to wildlife in Greenland. Some of these species are the focus of a long term project started in 1988 on Traill Island, in the North East Greenland National Park. It is the purpose here to report about this study
Lemming in Greenland: Dramatic population fluctuations but no mass suicide! Lemmings, these tiny rodents commonly believed to commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs or wading into the ocean, are not only known from Scandinavia One species the collared lemming (see the 7,25 DKK stamp issued in 1994) also settled in Greenland where it's range covers the North-Eastern part of the Island. Earlier this century in the thirties trappers already noticed such high and downs in the population of this lemming, when best harvest in fox furs was achieved following summers when lemmings were plentiful. But neither these danish and norvegian hunters that spent years afield, nor the Greenlander from Scoresyby Sund ever noticed any suicide behaviour linked with population crashes following outbreaks. For decades scientists in Northern Countries from Scandinavia across Siberia to Alaska and Northern Canada were actively trying to bring new light into this phenomena. While Greenland was long absent from these efforts, ongoing projects running now in this part of the lemming range promise contribute filling up part of this gap.
A species well adapted to the high arctic conditions The habitat in which lemmings are encountered in Greenland are the sparsely vegetated streches of land that are surrounded by the Ice cap on Land and the pack ice on sea along the North eastern Coast. Living most of their life time hidden either under the ground or for months in nests deep in the snow, makes it quite challenging to the scientist intending to assess their numbers or to observe their behaviour. During the long winter, the whole area is wrapped in snow, and cold and polar night prevents any field study. And even in summer, their presence will only be noticed when they are plentiful after so called outbreaks that result from a massive reproduction in the winter nests. Their activity in Summer is then noticed by freshly digged out burrows where they may be trapped and marked for survey purposes. Sometimes, they even seek protection under the tents of the base camp.
The lemming, the staple food for many predator species While lemmings have little economic value, they are a critical part of the food chain, sustaining most of the predators that may be encountered in this part of Greenland. Some of them like the snowy owl and the stoats are only breeding in such areas where lemmings are present. But also arctic foxes and long tailed skuas are highly dependent on them. Population of these predators rise and fall with the lemmings, in a literal cycle of feast and famine, but processes linked with it remain obscure, especially because we still lack long term observations linking prey population to the dynamics of the predators. Documenting this is the purpose of the Karupelv Valley Project.
Karupelv Valley Project – an international programme aimed at documenting lemming cycles in NE Greenland. Started in 1988 under the auspices of the University of Freiburg (D) and the Groupe de Recherches en Ecologie Arctique (F), this international project including also scientist from scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, Finland) is aimed at documenting in a scientiific way these rises and declines of the lemmings in NE Greenland. The study area is Karupelv Valley located on Traill Island in the North East Greenland Natiional Park. Access is by twin otter coming from Iceland up to Mesters Vig station, and then helicopterlifts up to Karupelv Valley, in the Kong Oscars Fjord area. To this purposes, field workers are carrying out systematic surveys of the winter nests remaining after snow melt. Their number as well as the size of the pellets found nearby will reveal reproduction activity under the snow. In addition, it give also indication about predation pressure by stoat, the only predator able to follow the small rodents in their subnivean environment. Once these small predators discover a lemming nest, then they take it over and use the fur of their victims to line their future nest. This study involves also round a clock observations of predators in order to assess the number of lemmings taken to feed offsprings. Evidence provided until now, after 12 field seasons was that lemmings in NE Greenland exhibit dramatic fluctuations, with peaks at intervalls of 4 years. More insights about lemmings in Greenland are in addition provided by work done at Zackenberg station, some 250 km north of Traill Island where similar studies are done under the auspices of the Danish Polar Center. Needless to say that a comparison of results will also assessing that the cycles do show some synchrony in North East Greenland.
Philatelic covers commemorating the field season. At the request of collectors the project team whose logo represents lemmings and snowy owls provides subscribers with special souvenirs as such represented hereby (Fig.). Covers are taken along to NE Greenland and mailed from the closests post offices, depending on opportunities (flight connections) either from Scoresby Sund, Danmarkshavn or Tassilaq. Besides stamps related to the project (in 1999, with snowy owl) these souvenirs also include the project logo and the expedition stamp as well as signature from participants.
How to subscribe: Collectors interested in subscribing to such covers are encouraged to contact the Project Leader for more details: Dr. Benoît SITTLER Karupelv Valley Project - Institut für Landespflege University of Freiburg 79085 FREIBURG E-mail: email@example.com In order to become processed in due time, subscription orders should be available not later