Original Paper

Polar Biology

, Volume 37, Issue 9, pp 1309-1320

First online:

Phenological advancement in arctic bird species: relative importance of snow melt and ecological factors

  • J. R. LiebezeitAffiliated withWildlife Conservation Society, Pacific West OfficeAudubon Society of Portland Email author 
  • , K. E. B. GurneyAffiliated withAlaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • , M. BuddeAffiliated withEarth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, U.S. Geological Survey
  • , S. ZackAffiliated withWildlife Conservation Society, Pacific West Office
  • , D. WardAffiliated withAlaska Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey

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Previous studies have documented advancement in clutch initiation dates (CIDs) in response to climate change, most notably for temperate-breeding passerines. Despite accelerated climate change in the Arctic, few studies have examined nest phenology shifts in arctic breeding species. We investigated whether CIDs have advanced for the most abundant breeding shorebird and passerine species at a long-term monitoring site in arctic Alaska. We pooled data from three additional nearby sites to determine the explanatory power of snow melt and ecological variables (predator abundance, green-up) on changes in breeding phenology. As predicted, all species (semipalmated sandpiper, Calidris pusilla, pectoral sandpiper, Calidris melanotos, red-necked phalarope, Phalaropus lobatus, red phalarope, Phalaropus fulicarius, Lapland longspur, Calcarius lapponicus) exhibited advanced CIDs ranging from 0.40 to 0.80 days/year over 9 years. Timing of snow melt was the most important variable in explaining clutch initiation advancement (“climate/snow hypothesis”) for four of the five species, while green-up was a much less important explanatory factor. We found no evidence that high predator abundances led to earlier laying dates (“predator/re-nest hypothesis”). Our results support previous arctic studies in that climate change in the cryosphere will have a strong impact on nesting phenology although factors explaining changes in nest phenology are not necessarily uniform across the entire Arctic. Our results suggest some arctic-breeding shorebird and passerine species are altering their breeding phenology to initiate nesting earlier enabling them to, at least temporarily, avoid the negative consequences of a trophic mismatch.


Arctic Climate change Clutch initiation Passerine Shorebird