Stopover ecology of semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) at coastal deltas of the Beaufort Sea, Alaska
|Churchwell, Roy Thomas
|Dissertation (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2015
|Avian migration is one of the wonders of the natural world. Stored fats are the main source of nutrients and fuel for avian migration and it is assumed the fat deposition at stopover sites is a critical component of a successful migration. Stopover sites are crucial in the successful migration of many birds, but particularly for arctic-breeding shorebirds that migrate long distances from breeding to wintering grounds. Despite the importance of stopover sites, it is often difficult to determine the importance of these sites to migrating shorebirds. I investigated three aspects of stopover ecology of Semipalmated Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) foraging at coastal deltas on the Beaufort Sea coast, Alaska. First, I quantified the spatial and temporal distribution and abundance of the benthic macroinvertebrate community living within the mudflats. I found that there were two ecological groups of macroinvertebrates using river deltas, one originated in terrestrial freshwater habitats and most importantly could withstand freezing in delta sediments over the winter, and the other originated from the marine environment, could not withstand freezing and had to migrate to intertidal habitats each summer from deeper water areas that did not freeze over the winter. Stable isotope analysis allowed me to describe the origin of carbon consumed by invertebrates in intertidal habitats. I predicted freshwater invertebrates would consume terrestrial carbon, and marine invertebrates would consume marine carbon, but I found that both groups utilized the same carbon, which was a mixture of terrestrial and marine sources. My second research question determined the importance of delta foraging habitat for fall migrating Semipalmated Sandpipers. I mapped the temporal distribution and abundance of birds and quantified this relationship to invertebrate distribution and abundance. I researched fattening rates of shorebirds by measuring triglycerides in the blood of shorebirds I captured. I hypothesized that triglyceride levels would be correlated with invertebrate abundance and related to habitat quality; however, I found no relationship. Next, I determined shorebird dependence on marine invertebrates using the stable isotope signature of invertebrates and shorebird plasma. I found that shorebird abundance was associated with invertebrate abundance, and that shorebirds did feed almost exclusively on invertebrates from the mudflats later in the season. I did not find a significant difference in habitat quality among the deltas, although more birds were counted at the Jago Delta than at the other two deltas. Finally, I researched the question of how change in water levels due to lunar tides and storm surge events impacted the availability of foraging habitat. I assessed the phenology of Semipalmated Sandpiper migration and how this related to the availability of forage based on abundance, distribution, and accessibility of macroinvertebrates. There was a significant decline in the calories available for forage when there was a lunar tide and when there was a storm surge event. The most foraging habitat was available late in the migration period, while the peak in Semipalmated Sandpiper migration was early in the period. Late in the season there is also a greater chance of a storm surge event occurring due to the lack of sea ice during that period. In summary, I found Beaufort Sea deltas were more diverse than I expected both in macroinvertebrate community and in how shorebirds use the available foraging habitat. After completing this research I feel this habitat is critical to Semipalmated Sandpiper migration; however, there is a real risk of extensive change to these deltas due to future warming with negative consequences for shorebirds.
|Stopover ecology of semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) at coastal deltas of the Beaufort Sea, Alaska