• Biogeochemical tracers of change in Pacific walruses past and present

      Clark, Casey; Horstmann, Lara; Misarti, Nicole; Konar, Brenda; Severin, Ken; Lemons, Patrick (2019-05)
      Reduced sea ice and projected food web shifts associated with warming of the Arctic have raised concerns about the future of Arctic species. Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) use sea ice as a platform for molting, giving birth, and resting between foraging bouts. Exactly how sea ice loss will affect walruses is difficult to predict, due to a lack of information about regional ecosystems and their responses to climate change. The objectives of the research in this dissertation were to 1) examine how walrus diet changed in response to shifting sea ice conditions over the last 4,000 years, with the goal of generating predictions about how current and future ice loss may affect the walrus population; 2) make it easier to directly compare the results of retrospective and contemporary stable isotope studies of walruses; and 3) generate new tools to assist wildlife managers in monitoring the walrus population in an uncertain future. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of walrus bone collagen indicated that diet was similar during previous intervals of high and low sea ice; however, diet variability among individual walruses was greater when sea ice cover was low, suggesting decreased abundance of preferred mollusk prey. Modern walrus diet was different from both previous high and low ice intervals, meaning that food webs in the Arctic are still in a state of flux, or that recent changes are novel within the last 4,000 years. Tissue-specific stable isotope discrimination factors were generated for walrus muscle, liver, skin, and bone collagen to improve comparisons between retrospective and contemporary studies of walrus diet. Additionally, lipid normalization models were parameterized for walrus skin and muscle, thereby making future walrus stable isotope research more feasible by reducing analytical costs and allowing the use of non-lethal sample collection. Finally, a novel technique for estimating the age at onset of reproductive maturity using concentrations of zinc and lead in the teeth of female walruses was established. This new approach has the potential to become a powerful tool for monitoring the walrus population and may be applicable to other species. Use of this technique on archived specimens may make it possible to examine changes in wildlife population dynamics across thousands of years.
    • Factors influencing chinook salmon spawning distribution in the Togiak River, Alaska

      Meggers, Stephanie L.; Seitz, Andrew; Prakash, Anupma; Lopez, Andres; Tanner, Theresa (2018-12)
      Salmonids are heavily dependent on specific habitat characteristics for survival, yet few studies in Alaska have examined the relationship between habitat and spawning distribution, using remote sensing approaches. To better understand the relationship between Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha spawning distribution and environmental variables like habitat type (e.g., run, riffle, pool), temperature, and proximity to channel islands, optical and thermal imagery were collected on the Togiak and Ongivinuk rivers in southwest Alaska. Object-based image analysis was used to classify and quantify habitat types, while thermal characteristics and the proximity of spawning locations to channel islands were determined in a GIS framework. Object-based image analysis was useful for classifying habitat and may provide a better alternative to pixel-based image analysis. However, rule sets were nontransferable and inconsistent among river reaches, and caution should be taken when these methods are used on large river sections. Chinook Salmon showed a preference for spawning in river runs, 80% of fish spawned in water temperatures between 8.6° and 9.4°C, and nearly 61% of Chinook Salmon spawned within 100 m of a channel island. This study provided a baseline understanding of environmental correlates of spawning for Chinook Salmon at the northern extent of their range.
    • Multi-scale movement of demersal fishes in Alaska

      Nielsen, Julie K.; Seitz, Andrew C.; Loher, Timothy; McDermott, Susanne F.; Mueter, Franz J.; Adkison, Milo D. (2019-05)
      Information on the movement of migratory demersal fishes such as Pacific halibut, Pacific cod, and sablefish is needed for management of these valuable fisheries in Alaska, yet available methods such as conventional tagging are too coarse to provide detailed information on migration characteristics. In this dissertation, I present methods for characterizing seasonal and annual demersal fish movement at multiple scales in space and time using electronic archival and acoustic tags. In Chapter 1, acoustic telemetry and the Net Squared Displacement statistic were used to identify and characterize small-scale movement of adult female Pacific halibut during summer foraging in a Marine Protected Area (MPA). The dominant movement pattern was home range behavior at spatial scales of less than 1 km, but a more dispersive behavioral state was also observed. In Chapter 2, Pop-up Satellite Archival Tags (PSATs) and acoustic tags were deployed on adult female Pacific halibut to determine annual movement patterns relative to MPA boundaries. Based on observations of summer home range behavior, high rates of year-round MPA residency, migration timing that largely coincided with winter commercial fisheries closures, and the demonstrated ability of migratory fish to return to previously occupied summer foraging areas, the MPA is likely to be effective for protecting both resident and migrant Pacific halibut brood stock year-round. In Chapter 3, I adapted a Hidden Markov Model (HMM) originally developed for geolocation of Atlantic cod in the North Sea for use on demersal fishes in Alaska, where maximum daily depth is the most informative and reliable geolocation variable. Because depth is considerably more heterogeneous in many regions of Alaska compared to the North Sea, I used simulated trajectories to determine that the degree of bathymetry heterogeneity affected model performance for different combinations of likelihood specification methods and model grid sizes. In Chapter 4, I added a new geolocation variable, geomagnetic data, to the HMM in a small-scale case study. The results suggest that the addition of geomagnetic data could increase model performance over depth alone, but more research is needed to continue validation of the method over larger areas in Alaska. In general, the HMM is a flexible tool for characterizing movement at multiple spatial scales and its use is likely to enrich our knowledge about migratory demersal fish movement in Alaska. The methods developed in this dissertation can provide valuable insights into demersal fish spatial dynamics that will benefit fisheries management activities such as stock delineation, stock assessment, and design of space-time closures.
    • The seasonal dynamics of coastal Arctic lagoons in Northwest Alaska

      Tibbles, Marguerite; Seitz, Andrew C.; Falke, Jeffrey A.; Prakash, Anupma; Robards, Martin D. (2018-12)
      Lagoons are zones of habitat transitions between freshwater and marine ecosystems, providing safe and productive feeding habitats for whitefishes in Northwest Alaska, important to subsistence users in the region. However, many important lagoon processes are not understood. Therefore, the goal of this thesis was to gain a baseline understanding of two important seasonal processes of lagoons in Northwest Alaska. First, I attempted to identify environmental processes correlated with Arctic lagoon breaching for three indicator lagoons that represent a range of environmental characteristics using generalized linear models (GLM) in an information theoretic approach and model averaging. Second, I developed a habitat suitability (HS) model to identify the range of physical conditions that whitefishes may experience if overwintering under ice of these lagoons during the Arctic winter, for the same three lagoons. The GLM model suggested that lagoon breaching day of year was slightly negatively related to day of year of river break-up, but other unconditional confidence intervals for the covariate parameters overlapped zero indicating considerable uncertainty in these estimates. Further data collection and monitoring in the region is needed to improve and verify lagoon breaching modelling results. The HS model indicated that lagoons have reduced suitability as whitefish habitat in winter due to loss of habitat due to the presence of bottomfast ice and a reduction of liquid water quality due to cold temperatures, high salinities and low dissolved oxygen levels. Importantly, small lagoons without freshwater inputs were potential sinks for fish populations. The results from this research will help the National Park Service and the Native Village of Kotzebue in a joint effort to understand and manage these important habitats that are critical for subsistence fisheries as the Arctic faces an uncertain future with climate change, oil spill threats, and increased coastal development.
    • The use of aerial imagery to map in-stream physical habitat related to summer distribution of juvenile salmonids in a Southcentral Alaskan stream

      Perschbacher, Jeff; Margraf, F. Joseph; Hasbrouck, James; Wipfli, Mark; Prakash, Anupma (2011-12)
      Airborne remote sensing (3-band multispectral imagery) was used to assess in-stream physical habitat related to summer distributions of juvenile salmonids in a Southcentral Alaskan stream. The objectives of this study were to test the accuracy of using remote sensing spectral and spatial classification techniques to map in-stream physical habitat, and test hypotheses of spatial segregation of ranked densities of juvenile chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tschwytscha, coho salmon O. kisutch, and rainbow trout O. mykiss, related to stream order and drainage. To relate habitat measured with remote sensing to fish densities, a supervised classification technique based on spectral signature was used to classify riffles, non-riffles, vegetation, shade, gravel, and eddy drop zones, with a spatial technique used to classify large woody debris. Combining the two classification techniques resulted in an overall user's accuracy of 85%, compared to results from similar studies (11-80%). Densities of juvenile salmonids was found to be significantly different between stream orders, but not between the two major drainages. Habitat data collected along a 500-meter stream reach were used successfully to map in-stream physical habitat for six river-kilometers of a fourth-order streams. The use of relatively inexpensive aerial imagery to classify in-stream physical habitats is cost effective and repeatable for mapping over large areas, and should be considered an effective tool for fisheries and land-use managers.