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How the Seabirds Can Help Detect Ecosystem Change in the Artic

Common MurreArctic marine resources are of vital importance to all Canadians and especially to northern and indigenous communities whose physical and cultural health and well-being are rooted in their dependence on living marine resources.  Climate change that has been ongoing in the Arctic for several decades is causing and will cause shifts in marine resources that will affect traditional harvesting practices.  These environmental transitions will present extreme challenges but opportunities can arise through proper planning for future adaptation using information on ocean-climate variability and change in marine ecosystems. The primary objective of our International Polar Year project is to use seabirds to detect climate-induced biological changes throughout the eastern Canadian Arctic extending from the Nunavut via the Labrador Current through to Labrador and Newfoundland.  Research centers on key forage species (Arctic cod, capelin, lantern fish, crustacea) and their seabird predators.  Simultaneous research in the Nunavut and in Low Arctic waters off Newfoundland and Labrador is integrated through the Labrador Current that provides a ‘downstream’ link to evaluate influences of Arctic climate on marine life in downstream ecosystems.  In collaboration with Inuit and Newfoundland hunters and fishers, we use seabirds to sample the marine environment over multiple regional and ocean-basin scales.

This project forms part of the larger IPY-endorsed consortium “Ecosystem Studies of Sub-Arctic and Arctic Regions” (ESSAR) which stresses comparisons between High and Low-Arctic sites. 

Our study involves avian predators that cover the full ranges of body sizes (important for energetic considerations), population sizes (important for estimates biomass consumption) and trophic levels(important for sampling diversity).  Observations and collections of nestling diets made at major colonies of Thick-billed and Common murres (fish can be identified as they are delivered), Northern fulmars (regurgitations), Black-legged kittiwakes (regurgitations), Leach’s storm-petrels (regurgitations) and Northern gannets (regurgitations).  Adult Thick-billed murres and Northern fulmars will be collected at sea on their feeding grounds and information on adult diets will be assessed from stomach content analysis.  Tissues from the collected birds and feather samples from other adults and chicks will be analysed for stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen which give further dietary information within and outside of the breeding season. Specimens will also be analysed for parasites.

"A Tale of Two Seabird Colonies" CBC video with EC scientist Tony Gaston.

IPY Seabirds Project website

Project Team
W.A. Montevecchi, Principal InvestigatorMemorial University of Newfoundland
A.J. GastonNWRC (Environment Canada)
G.K. DavorenUniversityof Manitoba
H.G. GilchristNWRC (Environment Canada)
M. MalloryCWS (Environment Canada)
K. HobsonEnvironment Canada
J.F. RailCWS (Environment Canada)
A. HeddMemorial University
C. BurkeMemorial University
G. RobertsonEnvironment Canada
S. GartheFTZ, University of Kiel, Germany
D. FifieldEnvironment Canada, part-time graduate student
R.A. PhillipsBritish Antarctic Survey, UK
A. BurenMemorial University
K. WooConsultant
A. BrownMemorial University
P. RegularMemorial University
J. AllenUniversity of Manitoba
K. ElliottUniversity of Manitoba
J. ProvencherUniversity of Victoria
J. AkeearokEnvironment Canada
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