• Postbreeding Ecology Of Shorebirds On The Arctic Coastal Plain Of Alaska

      Taylor, Audrey R.; Powell, Abby N.; Lanctot, R. B.; Huettmann, F.; Kitaysky, A. S.; Williams, T. D. (2011)
      Previous research on the Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) of Alaska has shown that postbreeding shorebirds congregate at coastal sites prior to fall migration. Relatively little has been done to compare distribution, community characteristics, or behavior broadly across the ACP landscape, but this information is necessary to set the context for interpreting population demographics and setting conservation priorities. I collected data on distribution, species composition, phenology, and habitat use of postbreeding shorebirds in 2005--2007. I found that distribution of shorebirds across the ACP was not uniform: I identified persistent "hotspots" at Peard Bay, Pt. Barrow/Elson Lagoon, Cape Simpson, Smith Bay to Cape Halkett, and at the Sagavanirktok and Kongakut Deltas. Staging phenology varied by species and location, and differed than that reported in previous studies for several species. Three foraging habitat guilds existed with birds favoring gravel beach, mudflat, or salt marsh/pond edge habitats. Using VHF telemetry. I examined how shorebirds moved from tundra breeding sites to and between coastal postbreeding sites. I found that most species exhibited a variable direction of movement compared to their ultimate migration direction; this may be related to each species' overall length of stay on the ACP. I also found species-specific patterns of movements and residence time that were indicative of differing life history strategies. Lastly, I examined the use of physiological tools (triglyceride and corticosterone levels) to assess function and quality of foraging sites for postbreeding shorebirds, taking into account varying molt strategies. I determined that molt strategies affected physiological profiles and physiologic metrics varied through space and time. However, my hypotheses for variation in physiological patterns for shorebirds employing different molt strategies and using sites of varying quality were not completely upheld. I suggest that assessments of site quality for postbreeding shorebirds should consider species-specific life history strategies, and use multiple species and physiological metrics as indicators. Given suspected declines in North American shorebird populations, and accelerated rates of environmental change in northern Alaska, this contextual information regarding postbreeding distribution, population characteristics, behavior, and physiology may help interpret changes in shorebird populations or behavior and establish strategies to protect important habitat.