Study pinpoints arctic shorebird decline

November 21, 2017, Wildlife Conservation Society
Red-necked phalarope. Credit: Zak Pohlen

A new study co-authored by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) addresses concerns over the many Arctic shorebird populations in precipitous decline. Evident from the study is that monitoring and protection of habitat where the birds breed, winter, and stopover is critical to their survival and to that of a global migration spectacle.

To understand why arctic shorebirds are declining and the role humans may be playing, Dr. Rebecca Bentzen of the WCS Arctic Beringia Program and her colleagues set out to quantify adult bird survival.

The scientists collected and combined data across nine breeding sites in the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic in 2010-2014, engaging in unprecedented levels of collaboration as part of the Arctic Shorebird Demographic Network.

Sites included the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Six species of shorebirds were represented in the study - American golden-plover, dunlin, semipalmated sandpiper, western sandpiper, red-necked phalarope, and red phalarope.

Testing how ecological and human-related variables affected the adult annual survival of the birds, the scientists observed few breeding ground impacts, suggesting that declines are not currently driven by conditions experienced on the Arctic breeding grounds.

"In a positive sense, our estimates for adult survival were substantially higher than previously published across five of the six species," said Bentzen. "This is good news; we seem to be doing the right thing in the Arctic as far as conserving these birds."

This could change, however, with a warming and more variable climate, and oil extraction in environmentally sensitive areas such as ANWR's coastal plain or around Teshekpuk Lake in the National Petroleum Reserve.

In addition, the study found that the survival of five species of shorebirds that migrate from breeding sites in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic to wintering areas farther south in the Americas is robust, presumably due to favorable conditions in the nesting areas along that flyway. Meanwhile, dunlin— a shorebird species that migrates to wintering areas in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway on the west side of the Pacific have poorer adult survival.

The authors surmise that loss of habitat at migratory stopovers or overwintering sites on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway are responsible for driving poorer adult survival rates and should be a focus of future conservation efforts.

Bentzen notes that the results should focus attention on habitat needs in the East Asian region. In addition, breeding grounds should be carefully monitored and protected as climate impacts and potentially development encroachment increases in and around these critical Arctic breeding habitats.

"Environmental and ecological conditions at Arctic breeding sites have limited effects on true survival rates of adult shorebirds," appears in the current edition of The Auk.

Explore further: Russian and US scientists collaborate to map migration paths of Arctic breeding birds

Related Stories

Alaska's shorebirds exposed to mercury

July 13, 2016

Shorebirds breeding in Alaska are being exposed to mercury at levels that could put their populations at risk, according to new research from The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

Birds on top of the world, with nowhere to go

July 20, 2016

Climate change could make much of the Arctic unsuitable for millions of migratory birds that travel north to breed each year, according to a new international study published today in Global Change Biology.

Earlier snowmelt prompting earlier breeding of Arctic birds

June 25, 2014

A new collaborative study that included the work of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) biologists has revealed that migratory birds that breed in Arctic Alaska are initiating nests earlier in the spring, and that snowmelt ...

Recommended for you

How birds and insects reacted to the solar eclipse

November 14, 2018

A team of researchers with Cornell University and the University of Oxford has found that birds and insects reacted in some surprising ways to the 2017 U.S. total solar eclipse. In their paper published in the journal Biology ...

Gene-edited food is coming, but will shoppers buy?

November 14, 2018

The next generation of biotech food is headed for the grocery aisles, and first up may be salad dressings or granola bars made with soybean oil genetically tweaked to be good for your heart.

Symbiosis a driver of truffle diversity

November 14, 2018

While the sight of black or white truffle being shaved over on pasta is generally considered a sign of dining extravagance, they play an important role in soil ecosystem services. Truffles are the fruiting bodies of the ectomycorrhizal ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.