Ecosystem birth near melting glaciers: A review on the pioneer role of ground-dwelling arthropods

Sigmund Hågvar, Mauro Gobbi, Rüdiger Kaufmann, María Ingimarsdóttir, Marco Caccianiga, Barbara Valle, Paolo Pantini, Pietro Paolo Fanciulli, Amber Vater

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


As glaciers retreat, their forelands represent “natural laboratories” for the study of primary succession. This review describes how certain arthropods conquer pristine ground and develop food webs before the establishment of vascular plants. Based on soil samples, pitfall traps, fallout and sticky traps, gut content studies, and some unpublished data, we compare early arthropod succession on glacial forelands of northern Europe (Iceland, Norway including Svalbard, and Sweden) and of the Alps (Austria, Italy). While macroarthropod predators like ground beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae), harvestmen (Arachnida: Opiliones), and spiders (Arachnida: Araneae) have usually been considered as pioneers, assumed to feed on airborne prey, this review explains a different pattern. Here, we highlight that springtails (Collembola), probably feeding on biofilm made up of algae or cyanobacteria, are super-pioneers, even at high altitudes and under arctic conditions. We also point out that macroarthropod predators can use locally available prey, such as springtails or non-biting midges (Diptera: Chironomidae). Pioneer arthropod communities vary under different biogeographical and climatic conditions. Two pioneer food webs, from northern Europe and the Alps, respectively, differed in structure and function. However, certain genera and orders were common to both. Generalists and specialists live together in a pioneer community. Cold-adapted specialists are threatened by glacier melting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number644
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ecology

Free keywords

  • Arthropods
  • Collembola
  • Food web
  • Foreland
  • Glacier
  • Pioneers
  • Succession


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