Shorebird reproductive response to exceptionally early and late springs varies across sites in Arctic Alaska

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
By: , and 



While increases in overall temperatures are widely reported in the Arctic, large inter-annual variation in spring weather, with extreme early and late conditions, is also occurring. Using data collected from three sites in Arctic Alaska, we explored how shorebird breeding density, nest initiation, nest synchrony, nest survival, and phenological mismatch varied between two exceptionally early (2015 and 2016) and late (2017 and 2018) springs. We assessed these differences in the context of long-term data from each site and whether species exhibited conservative or opportunistic reproductive strategies. Conservative shorebirds typically display nest-site fidelity and territoriality, consistent population densities, relatively even individual spacing, and monogamous mating systems with bi-parental incubation. In contrast, opportunistic shorebirds display the opposite traits, and a polygamous mating system with uniparental incubation. In this study, we evaluated 2,239 nests from 13 shorebird species, 2015–2018, and found that shorebirds of both strategies bred earlier and in higher numbers in early, warm springs relative to historic levels (based on 3,789 nests, 2005–2014); opposite trends were observed in late springs. In early springs, nests were initiated less synchronously than in late springs. Nest survival was unrelated to spring type, but was greater in earlier laid nests overall. Invertebrate food resources emerged earlier in early springs, resulting in a greater temporal asynchrony between invertebrate emergence and chick hatching in early than late springs. However, invertebrate abundance was quite variable among sites and years regardless of spring type. Overall, our results were generally consistent with predicted relationships between spring conditions and reproductive parameters. However, we detected differences among sites that could not be explained by other ecological factors (e.g., predators or alternative prey). Differences in shorebird community composition and other subtler methodological/ecological differences among sites highlight the difficulty of understanding the complex nature of these ecological systems and the importance of evaluating questions at multiple sites across multiple years. Our study demonstrates that shorebirds exhibit a high degree of behavioral flexibility in response to variable Arctic conditions, but whether this flexibility is enough to allow them to optimally track changing environmental conditions or if evolutionary adjustments will be necessary is unknown.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Shorebird reproductive response to exceptionally early and late springs varies across sites in Arctic Alaska
Series title Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
DOI 10.3389/fevo.2020.577652
Volume 8
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Frontiers
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB
Description 577652, 18 p.
Country United States
State Alaska
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