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Vulnerabilities - Terrestrial biodiversity

Land and soil erosion are one of Iceland’s chief environmental problems. It is believed that more than 95% of the country’s forests and over half of its contiguous soil cover have been lost since the time the island was settled. This means not only that the capacity of vegetation and soil to remove carbon from the atmosphere is much less than would otherwise be the case, but also that the soil in Iceland is especially needy of carbon. This means that it is possible to combine the goals of reclaiming vegetation and soil and of combatting climate change through the sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere (1).

Iceland‘s natural terrestrial ecosystems can be roughly divided into four main categories; wetlands, woodlands, grasslands, and barren or sparsely vegetated areas. … It has been concluded that vegetation of sparsely vegetated or barren areas should mostly benefit from warmer climate; at least if changes in precipitation patterns don‘t counteract its effects. Increased precipitation could lead to increased water erosion of barren soils (2).


The concurrent increase in the productivity of the tundra, probably due to longer and warmer growing seasons, will in the long run cause northern boreal forests to invade the tundra, while boreal forests at the southern ecotone are likely to retreat due to increasing drought, insects and more prevalent fires (3). Since the rate of loss at the southern ecotone due to relatively fast processes such as fire is likely to be higher than the rate of gain at the northern ecotone due to the slow growth conditions, the overall effect of these two processes for the boreal forests is likely to be negative during the transient phase, i.e. until a new equilibrium between climate and vegetation is established. However, in equilibrium a general increase in deciduous vegetation at the expense of evergreen vegetation is predicted at all latitudes (4).

Vulnerabilities - Fresh water and wetlands biodiversity

Recent research indicates that a there is significant emission of CO2 from overused land and from drained wetlands. This calls for changes in land use and increased emphasis on wetland reclamation, which would reduce such emissions and even result in net sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere. Wetland reclamation is a new topic of emphasis in the government’s policy on climate (1).

One rare plant community, highland permafrost string bogs (palsamires), is already under threat from the recent climate warming. The string bogs and their discontinuous permafrost areas might even disappear with further warming. Then their function as important habitats for plants and as breeding ground for birds would disappear as well. The permafrost string bogs hold much soil organic matter that currently is unavailable to decomposition. The thawing of these soils could therefore result in more emissions of GHGs (2).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Iceland.

  1. Ministry for the Environment of Iceland (2007)
  2. Ministry for the Environment of Iceland (2010)
  3. Denman et al. (2007); Fischlin et al. (2007), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  4. Fischlin (ed.) (2009)

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