The ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) is an endangered seabird that spends its entire year in the Arctic environment. In the past three decades, threats from various sources have contributed to a >70% decline in Canada. To assess the annual habitat needs of this species, we attached satellite transmitters to 12 ivory gulls on Seymour Island, Nunavut in 2010, which provided up to four breeding seasons of tracking data. Analysis of migratory behaviour revealed considerable individual variation of post-breeding migratory route selection. Ivory gulls traveled a median of 74 days during post-breeding migration, but only 18 days during pre-breeding migration. In contrast to predictions, ivory gulls did not use the Greenland coast during migratory periods. Ivory gulls overwintered near the ice edge in Davis Strait, but also used the Labrador Sea in late February and March. We suggest that the timing of formation and recession and extent of sea ice plays a large role in ivory gull distribution and migratory timing.
Populations of many North American sea ducks are declining. Biomarkers may offer valuable insights regarding the health and fitness of sea ducks in relation to contaminant burdens. In this study we examined body condition, immune function, corticosterone stress response, liver glycogen levels and vitamin A status in relation to tissue concentrations of mercury, selenium and cadmium in female common eiders during the nesting period. The study was conducted in the eastern Canadian arctic during July, 2000. Hepatic mercury, selenium and renal cadmium concentrations ranged 1.5-9.8, 6.5-47.5 and 74-389 microg/g, dry wt, respectively. Mercury concentrations were negatively related to dissection body mass, heart mass and fat mass. Cadmium concentrations were negatively related to mass at capture and dissection mass after controlling for the mercury concentration-dissection mass relationship. Cell-mediated immunity was assessed by the skin swelling reaction to an injection of phytohemagglutinin-P, and was unrelated to metal concentrations. After adjusting the corticosterone concentration to account for the time between capture and sampling, there was a negative relationship between the residual corticosterone concentration and selenium. Liver glycogen concentrations were not significantly related to metal concentrations. Mercury concentrations were positively related to those of hepatic retinol and retinyl palmitate and the ratio of the retinol to retinyl palmitate in liver. They were negatively related to the ratio of plasma to liver retinol. Our findings do not indicate that exposure to metals may have adversely affected the health of these birds. They do, however, suggest that more research is required to elucidate mechanisms by which exposure to these metals could impact body condition.
Recent studies have proposed that birds migrating short distances migrate at an overall slower pace, minimizing energy expenditure, while birds migrating long distances minimize time spent on migration to cope with seasonal changes in environmental conditions.
We evaluated variability in the migration strategies of Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus), a generalist species with flexible foraging and flight behaviour. We tracked one population of long distance migrants and three populations of short distance migrants, and compared the directness of their migration routes, their overall migration speed, their travel speed, and their use of stopovers.
Our research revealed that Herring Gulls breeding in the eastern Arctic migrate long distances to spend the winter in the Gulf of Mexico, traveling more than four times farther than gulls from Atlantic Canada during autumn migration. While all populations used indirect routes, the long distance migrants were the least direct. We found that regardless of the distance the population traveled, Herring Gulls migrated at a slower overall migration speed than predicted by Optimal Migration Theory, but the long distance migrants had higher speeds on travel days. While long distance migrants used more stopover days overall, relative to the distance travelled all four populations used a similar number of stopover days.
When taken in context with other studies, we expect that the migration strategies of flexible generalist species like Herring Gulls may be more influenced by habitat and food resources than migration distance.
Arctic ecosystems are changing in response to climate change and some Arctic food web structures are being affected in ways which may have potential consequences for the biomagnification of environmental contaminants. Here, we examined how a shift in diet of an Arctic seabird resulted in a change of trophic position and how that change affected exposure to mercury over time. The thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia), which breeds in the eastern Canadian Arctic, has been monitored for diet and environmental contaminants at two colonies, one in northern Hudson Bay and one in the high Arctic. As a result of a change in diet, murres breeding in Hudson Bay lowered their trophic position which, in turn, should affect their mercury exposure over time. After adjusting mercury concentrations in murre eggs for trophic position, the temporal trend of mercury in Hudson Bay murre eggs changed from nonsignificant to a significantly increasing trend. Valid trends can be deduced only when factors, such as diet, have been taken into account.
Some Arctic food web structures are being affected by climate change with potential consequences for long-term trends of environmental contaminants. We examined the effects of changes in trophic position of an Arctic-breeding seabird, the thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia), on declining rates of six major organochlorines (hexachlorobenzene, heptachlor epoxide, oxychlordane, dieldrin, p,p'-DDE and S69PCB) at two breeding colonies in the Canadian Arctic, one in northern Hudson Bay and one in the high Arctic. As a result of a change in diet, murres breeding in Hudson Bay lowered their trophic position during 1993-2013. After adjusting for the change in trophic position using egg d(15)N values, the rates of decline in concentrations of all six organochlorines were reduced in the Hudson Bay murre eggs. In contrast, the murres at the high Arctic colony experienced an increase in trophic position which resulted in an increase in the rates of decline for all adjusted concentrations, except for p,p'-DDE and S69PCB which remained relatively unchanged. This suggests that the dramatic reduction in emissions of these compounds during the 1970s/1980s had a greater influence on the time trends than changes in diet at the high Arctic colony. Linkages between climate change and food web processes are complex, and may have serious consequences for our understanding of contaminant temporal trends. Valid trends can be deduced only when these factors have been taken into account.
Global warming is a nonlinear process, and temperature may increase in a stepwise manner. Periods of abrupt warming can trigger persistent changes in the state of ecosystems, also called regime shifts. The responses of organisms to abrupt warming and associated regime shifts can be unlike responses to periods of slow or moderate change. Understanding of nonlinearity in the biological responses to climate warming is needed to assess the consequences of ongoing climate change. Here, we demonstrate that the population dynamics of a long-lived, wide-ranging marine predator are associated with changes in the rate of ocean warming. Data from 556 colonies of black-legged kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla distributed throughout its breeding range revealed that an abrupt warming of sea-surface temperature in the 1990s coincided with steep kittiwake population decline. Periods of moderate warming in sea temperatures did not seem to affect kittiwake dynamics. The rapid warming observed in the 1990s may have driven large-scale, circumpolar marine ecosystem shifts that strongly affected kittiwakes through bottom-up effects. Our study sheds light on the nonlinear response of a circumpolar seabird to large-scale changes in oceanographic conditions and indicates that marine top predators may be more sensitive to the rate of ocean warming rather than to warming itself.
The influence of variation in individual state on key reproductive decisions impacting fitness is well appreciated in evolutionary ecology. Rowe et al. (1994) developed a condition-dependent individual optimization model predicting that three key factors impact the ability of migratory female birds to individually optimize breeding phenology to maximize fitness in seasonal environments: arrival condition, arrival date, and ability to gain in condition on the breeding grounds. While empirical studies have confirmed that greater arrival body mass and earlier arrival dates result in earlier laying, no study has assessed whether individual variation in energetic management of condition gain effects this key fitness-related decision. Using an 8-year data set from over 350 prebreeding female Arctic common eiders (Somateria mollissima), we tested this component of the model by examining whether individual variation in two physiological traits influencing energetic management (plasma triglycerides: physiological fattening rate; baseline corticosterone: energetic demand) predicted individual variation in breeding phenology after controlling for arrival date and body mass. As predicted by the optimization model, individuals with higher fattening rates and lower energetic demand had the earliest breeding phenology (shortest delays between arrival and laying; earliest laying dates). Our results are the first to empirically determine that individual flexibility in prebreeding energetic management influences key fitness-related reproductive decisions, suggesting that individuals have the capacity to optimally manage reproductive investment.
For birds, unpredictable environments during the energetically stressful times of moulting and breeding are expected to have negative fitness effects. Detecting those effects however, might be difficult if individuals modulate their physiology and/or behaviours in ways to minimize short-term fitness costs. Corticosterone in feathers (CORTf) is thought to provide information on total baseline and stress-induced CORT levels at moulting and is an integrated measure of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity during the time feathers are grown. We predicted that CORTf levels in northern common eider females would relate to subsequent body condition, reproductive success and survival, in a population of eiders nesting in the eastern Canadian Arctic during a capricious period marked by annual avian cholera outbreaks. We collected CORTf data from feathers grown during previous moult in autumn and data on phenology of subsequent reproduction and survival for 242 eider females over 5 years. Using path analyses, we detected a direct relationship between CORTf and arrival date and body condition the following year. CORTf also had negative indirect relationships with both eider reproductive success and survival of eiders during an avian cholera outbreak. This indirect effect was dramatic with a reduction of approximately 30% in subsequent survival of eiders during an avian cholera outbreak when mean CORTf increased by 1 standard deviation. This study highlights the importance of events or processes occurring during moult on subsequent expression of life-history traits and relation to individual fitness, and shows that information from non-destructive sampling of individuals can track carry-over effects across seasons.
A suite of chlorinated, brominated and fluorinated organic contaminants were measured in livers of adult thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia) and northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) from several locations in the eastern Canadian Arctic during 2007-2008. Thick-billed murres were collected from five colonies (Coats Island, Digges Island, Akpatok Island, Prince Leopold Island, Minarets) and northern fulmars from two colonies (Prince Leopold Island, Minarets). Legacy organochlorines (e.g. PCBs, DDT, chlorobenzenes, chlordanes) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) dominated the compositional profiles of the measured halogenated compounds in the livers of both species at all colonies. Among the murre colonies sampled, Prince Leopold Island birds generally had the highest mean concentrations of organochlorines, whereas the highest mean concentration of sum (S) polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) was found at the Minarets and the lowest at Prince Leopold Island. PBDEs were detected in only a few fulmar livers from the Minarets and in none of the fulmar livers from Prince Leopold Island. Mean PFOS concentrations were highest in both murre and fulmar livers at Prince Leopold Island. PFOS was approximately two orders of magnitude higher than the mean sum (S) perfluorinated carboxylate (PFCA) concentration in both species and at all colonies. The reasons for inter-colony and inter-species differences in contaminant liver levels are probably variable and complex, and likely reflect differences in contaminant transport and exposure pathways, as well as differences among colonies in their diets and overwintering areas. To our knowledge, this is the first spatial assessment of PBDEs, PFCAs and PFOS in seabirds from the Canadian Arctic.
In birds, parasites cause detrimental effects to the individual host, including reduced survival and reproductive output. The level of parasitic infection can vary with a range of factors, including migratory status, body size, sex, and age of hosts, or season. Understanding this baseline variation is important in order to identify the effects of external changes such as climate change on the parasitic load and potential impacts to individuals and populations. In this study, we compared the infection level (prevalence, intensity, and abundance) of gastrointestinal parasites in a total of 457 common eiders (Somateria mollissima) from four different sampling locations (Belcher Islands, Cape Dorset, West Greenland and Newfoundland), and explored the effects of migration, sex and age on levels of parasitism. Across all samples, eiders were infected with one nematode genus, two acanthocephalan genera, three genera of cestodes, and three trematode genera. Migratory phase and status alone did not explain the observed variation in infection levels; the expectation that post-migratory eiders would be more parasitized than pre-migratory eiders, due to the energetic cost of migration, did not fit our results. No effect of age was detected, whereas effects of sex and body size were only detected for certain parasitic taxa and was inconsistent with location. Since gastrointestinal helminths are trophically-transmitted, future studies of the regional and temporal variation in the diet of eiders and the associated variation and infestation level of intermediate hosts might further explain the observed variation of the parasitic load in eiders in different regions.