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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the many field assistants who collected data for this study. We also thank BP Alaska [Exploration] Inc., ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc., and the North Slope Borough for logistic support. The funders that made this study possible include: Alaska Department of Fish and Game Partner Program, Bureau of Land Management, Disney Conservation Awards, Kresge Foundation, Liz Claiborne/Art Ortenberg Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act grants, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Avian Influenza Surveillance grants, WCS private donors, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Changing Arctic Ecosystem Initiative that is supported by funding from the Wildlife Program of the USGS Ecosystem Mission Area. We thank Kyle Hogrefe for preparation of the study area figure. Any use of trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to J. R. Liebezeit.

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Liebezeit, J.R., Gurney, K.E.B., Budde, M. et al. Phenological advancement in arctic bird species: relative importance of snow melt and ecological factors. Polar Biol 37, 1309–1320 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-014-1522-x

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Keywords

  • Arctic
  • Climate change
  • Clutch initiation
  • Passerine
  • Shorebird