Climate change could overturn bird migration: Transarctic flights and high-latitude residency in a sea ice free Arctic.
ABSTRACT: Climate models predict that by 2050 the Arctic Ocean will be sea ice free each summer. Removing this barrier between the Atlantic and the Pacific will modify a wide range of ecological processes, including bird migration. Using published information, we identified 29 arctic-breeding seabird species, which currently migrate in the North Atlantic and could shift to a transarctic migration towards the North Pacific. We also identified 24 arctic-breeding seabird species which may shift from a migratory strategy to high-arctic year-round residency. To illustrate the biogeographical consequences of such drastic migratory shifts, we performed an in-depth study of little auks (Alle alle), the most numerous artic seabird. Coupling species distribution models and climatic models, we assessed the adequacy of future wintering and breeding areas for transarctic migrants and high-arctic year-round residents. Further, we used a mechanistic bioenergetics model (Niche Mapper), to compare the energetic costs of current little auk migration in the North Atlantic with potential transarctic and high-arctic residency strategies. Surprisingly, our results indicate that transarctic little auk migration, from the North Atlantic towards the North Pacific, may only be half as costly, energetically, than high-arctic residency or migration to the North Atlantic. Our study illustrates how global warming may radically modify the biogeography of migratory species, and provides a general methodological framework linking migratory energetics and spatial ecology.
Project description:In some arctic areas, marine-derived nutrients (MDN) resulting from fish migrations fuel freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, increasing primary production and biodiversity. Less is known, however, about the role of seabird-MDN in shaping ecosystems. Here, we examine how the most abundant seabird in the North Atlantic, the little auk (Alle alle), alters freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems around the North Water Polynya (NOW) in Greenland. We compare stable isotope ratios (?15N and ?13C) of freshwater and terrestrial biota, terrestrial vegetation indices and physical-chemical properties, productivity and community structure of fresh waters in catchments with and without little auk colonies. The presence of colonies profoundly alters freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems by providing nutrients and massively enhancing primary production. Based on elevated ?15N in MDN, we estimate that MDN fuels more than 85% of terrestrial and aquatic biomass in bird influenced systems. Furthermore, by using different proxies of bird impact (colony distance, algal ?15N) it is possible to identify a gradient in ecosystem response to increasing bird impact. Little auk impact acidifies the freshwater systems, reducing taxonomic richness of macroinvertebrates and truncating food webs. These results demonstrate that the little auk acts as an ecosystem engineer, transforming ecosystems across a vast region of Northwest Greenland.
Project description:The North Water (NOW) polynya is one of the most productive marine areas of the Arctic and an important breeding area for millions of seabirds. There is, however, little information on the dynamics of the polynya or the bird populations over the long term. Here, we used sediment archives from a lake and peat deposits along the Greenland coast of the NOW polynya to track long-term patterns in the dynamics of the seabird populations. Radiocarbon dates show that the thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia) and the common eider (Somateria mollissima) have been present for at least 5500 cal. years. The first recorded arrival of the little auk (Alle alle) was around 4400 cal. years BP at Annikitsoq, with arrival at Qeqertaq (Salve Ø) colony dated to 3600 cal. years BP. Concentrations of cadmium and phosphorus (both abundant in little auk guano) in the lake and peat cores suggest that there was a period of large variation in bird numbers between 2500 and 1500 cal. years BP. The little auk arrival times show a strong accord with past periods of colder climate and with some aspects of human settlement in the area.
Project description:Ongoing global changes apply drastic environmental forcing onto Arctic marine ecosystems, particularly through ocean warming, sea-ice shrinkage and enhanced pollution. To test impacts on arctic marine ecological functioning, we used a 12-year integrative study of little auks (Alle alle), the most abundant seabird in the Atlantic Arctic. We monitored the foraging ecology, reproduction, survival and body condition of breeding birds, and we tested linkages between these biological variables and a set of environmental parameters including sea-ice concentration (SIC) and mercury contamination. Little auks showed substantial plasticity in response to SIC, with deeper and longer dives but less time spent underwater and more time flying when SIC decreased. Their diet also contained less lipid-rich ice-associated prey when SIC decreased. Further, in contrast to former studies conducted at the annual scale, little auk fitness proxies were impacted by environmental changes: Adult body condition and chick growth rate were negatively linked to SIC and mercury contamination. However, no trend was found for adult survival despite high inter-annual variability. Our results suggest that potential benefits of milder climatic conditions in East Greenland may be offset by increasing pollution in the Arctic. Overall, our study stresses the importance of long-term studies integrating ecology and ecotoxicology.
Project description:Here, we model current and future distribution of a foraging Arctic endemic species, the little auk (Alle alle), a small zooplanktivorous Arctic seabird. We characterized environmental conditions [sea depth, sea surface temperature (SST), marginal sea ice zone (MIZ)] at foraging positions of GPS-tracked individuals from three breeding colonies in Svalbard: one located at the southern rim of the Arctic zone (hereafter 'boreo-Arctic') and two in the high-Arctic zone on Spitsbergen ('high-Arctic'). The birds from one 'high-Arctic' colony, influenced by cold Arctic water, foraged in the shallow shelf zone near the colony. The birds from remaining colonies foraged in a wider range of depths, in a higher SST zone ('boreo-Arctic') or in the productive but distant MIZ (second 'high-Arctic' colony). Given this flexible foraging behaviour, little auks may be temporarily resilient to moderate climate changes. However, our fuzzy logic models of future distribution under scenarios of 1?°C and 2?°C SST increase predict losses of suitable foraging habitat for the majority of little auk colonies studied. Over longer time scales negative consequences of global warming are inevitable. The actual response of little auks to future environmental conditions will depend on the range of their plasticity and pace of ecosystem changes.
Project description:There is an urgent need for a better understanding of animal migratory ecology under the influence of climate change. Most current analyses require long-term monitoring of populations on the move, and shorter-term approaches are needed. Here, we analysed the ecological drivers of seabird migration within the framework of the energyscape concept, which we defined as the variations in the energy requirements of an organism across geographical space as a function of environmental conditions. We compared the winter location of seabirds with their modelled energy requirements and prey fields throughout the North Atlantic. Across six winters, we tracked the migration of 94 little auks (Alle alle), a key sentinel Arctic species, between their East Greenland breeding site and wintering areas off Newfoundland. Winter energyscapes were modelled with Niche Mapper™, a mechanistic tool which takes into account local climate and bird ecophysiology. Subsequently, we used a resource selection function to explain seabird distributions through modelled energyscapes and winter surface distribution of one of their main prey, Calanus finmarchicus. Finally, future energyscapes were calculated according to IPCC climate change scenarios. We found that little auks targeted areas with high prey densities and moderately elevated energyscapes. Predicted energyscapes for 2050 and 2095 showed a decrease in winter energy requirements under the high emission scenario, which may be beneficial if prey availability is maintained. Overall, our study demonstrates the great potential of the energyscape concept for the study of animal spatial ecology, in particular in the context of global change.
Project description:Marine environments are greatly affected by climate change, and understanding how this perturbation affects marine vertebrates is a major issue. In this context, it is essential to identify the environmental drivers of animal distribution. Here, we focused on the little auk (Alle alle), one of the world's most numerous seabirds and a major component in Arctic food webs. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we show how little auks adopt specific migratory strategies and balance environmental constraints to optimize their energy budgets. Miniature electronic loggers indicate that after breeding, birds from East Greenland migrate >2000 km to overwinter in a restricted area off Newfoundland. Synoptic data available from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) indicate that this region harbours some of the highest densities of the copepod Calanus finmarchicus found in the North Atlantic during winter. Examination of large-scale climatic and oceanographic data suggests that little auks favour patches of high copepod abundance in areas where air temperature ranges from 0°C to 5°C. These results greatly advance our understanding of animal responses to extreme environmental constraints, and highlight that information on habitat preference is key to identifying critical areas for marine conservation.
Project description:Using GPS-tracked individuals, we compared foraging ecology and reproductive output of a High-Arctic zooplanktivorous seabird, the little auk Alle alle, between three years differing in environmental conditions (sea surface temperature). Despite contrasting environmental conditions, average foraging fights distance and duration were generally similar in all studied years. Also, in all years foraging locations visited by the little auk parents during short trips (ST, for chick provisioning) were significantly closer to the colony compared to those visited during long trips (LTs, mainly for adults' self-maintenance). Nevertheless, we also found some differences in the little auk foraging behaviour: duration of LTs was the longest in the coldest year suggesting more time for resting for adults compared to warmer years. Besides, birds foraged closer to the colony and in significantly colder water in the coldest year. Interestingly, these differences did not affect chick diet: in all the years, the energy content of food loads was similar, with the Arctic copepod, Calanus glacialis copepodite stage V being the most preferred prey item (>73% of items by number and >67% by energy content). Also chick survival was similar in all the study years. However, when examining chicks growth rate we found that their peak body mass was lower in warmer years suggesting that overall conditions in the two warm years were less favourable. While our results, demonstrate a great foraging flexibility by little auks, they also point out their vulnerability to changing environmental conditions.
Project description:Delayed maturity, low fecundity, and high adult survival are traits typical for species with a long-life expectancy. For such species, even a small change in adult survival can strongly affect the population dynamics and viability. We examined the effects of both regional and local climatic variability on adult survival of the little auk, a long-lived and numerous Arctic seabird species. We conducted a mark-resighting study for a period of 8 years (2006-2013) simultaneously at three little auk breeding sites that are influenced by the West Spitsbergen Current, which is the main carrier of warm, Atlantic water into the Arctic. We found that the survival of adult little auks was negatively correlated with both the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index and local summer sea surface temperature (SST), with a time lag of 2 and 1 year, respectively. The effects of NAO and SST were likely mediated through a change in food quality and/or availability: (1) reproduction, growth, and development of Arctic Calanus copepods, the main prey of little auks, are negatively influenced by a reduction in sea ice, reduced ice algal production, and an earlier but shorter lasting spring bloom, all of which result from an increased NAO; (2) a high sea surface temperature shortens the reproductive period of Arctic Calanus, decreasing the number of eggs produced. A synchronous variation in survival rates at the different colonies indicates that climatic forcing was similar throughout the study area. Our findings suggest that a predicted warmer climate in the Arctic will negatively affect the population dynamics of the little auk, a high Arctic avian predator.
Project description:Many seabirds breed in large aggregations, making it difficult to estimate their population size and habitat preferences. This knowledge is particularly important considering their function in food webs and ecosystem services. In this study, we investigated the factors affecting distribution and abundance of the little auk Alle alle, a seabird considered a keystone species of the Arctic ecosystem. We performed the study on the W and the NW coast of Spitsbergen. Using Generalized Additive Models (GAMs) and Conditional Inference Tree (CIT) we examined factors related to presence/absence and size (estimated number of breeding pairs) of the little auk colonies. We also tested the nesting preferences for geographical features such as aspect, slope angle, altitude, solar radiation, rock type, and distance to foraging grounds. Our findings indicate that the occurrence of little auk breeding colonies is non-random and highly attributed to environmental factors. The probability of colony occurrence was significantly associated with altitude (negative relationship; preference to sites situated lower), solar radiation (positive relationship; the higher radiation, the more likely colony occurrence) and slope (positive relationship; the steeper a slope, the more likely colony occurrence), whilst aspect appeared non-significant (though the probability of colony occurrence peaked at southern slopes). Colony size was significantly associated with rock type (larger colonies in amphibolite and quartzite). The distance to foraging grounds did not appear to affect the probability of colony occurrence and size, implying that birds may choose optimal breeding sites at the cost of longer foraging flights. We estimated the Spitsbergen little auk breeding population at 728 529 (5-95% CI: 479 312-986 352). Spitsbergen comprises ca 1.9% (95% CI: 1.2%-2.7%) of the world breeding population and represents the third most important breeding area for the species, following the W and the E coast of Greenland.
Project description:The role of seabirds as sea-land biovectors of nutrients is well documented. However, no studies have examined whether and how colonial seabirds that differ in diet may influence terrestrial vegetation. Therefore, the purpose of the study was to describe and compare plant communities located in the vicinity of the two most common types of seabird colonies in Arctic, occupied by piscivorous or planktivorous species. Within 46 plots arranged in four transects in the vicinity of planktivorous (little auk, Alle alle) and piscivorous colonies (mixed colony of Brunnich's guillemot, Uria lomvia, and black-legged kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla) we measured the following: guano deposition, physical and chemical characteristics of soil, total nitrogen and its stable isotope signatures in soil and plants, ground vegetation cover of vascular plants and mosses, and the occurrence of lichens, algae and cyanobacteria. Using LINKTREE analysis, we distinguished five plant communities, which reflected declining influence along a birds fertilization gradient measured as guano deposition. SIMPROOF test revealed that these communities differed significantly in species composition, with the differences related to total soil nitrogen content and ?15N, distinctive levels of phosphates, potassium and nitrates, and physical soil properties, i.e., pH, conductivity and moisture. The communities were also clearly distinguished by distance from the bird colony. The two colony types promoted development of specific plant communities: the immediate vicinity of the planktivorous colony characterized by a Deschampsia alpina-Cerastium arcticum community while under the piscivorous colony a Cochlearia groenlandica-Poa alpina community was present. Despite the similar size of the colonies and similar magnitude of guano input, differences between ornithogenic communities were connected mostly to phosphate content in the soil. Our results show that the guano input from seabirds which have different diets can affect High Arctic vegetation in specific and more complex ways than previously realized.