Monitoring sentinel species in environments undergoing ecosystem change is essential to understanding how the organisms living in these habitats will respond. Seabirds are considered sensitive to shifts in their local environment and have been used as sentinels but many species occupy remote locations, posing logistical challenges for long-term studies. Remote camera techniques offer a possible alternative to other methods of monitoring seabirds during their breeding seasons. To investigate the use of remote camera techniques to study cliff-nesting seabirds and identify factors influencing their productivity, a remote video-camera system was used to collect 6 years (2010-2015) of reproductive data from a sub-colony of Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) in Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska. The first objective was to refine remote camera techniques by investigating the influence of 1) observation frequency and 2) observation type (video or still image) on estimates of productivity. Observation frequency from daily up to one week intervals did not have a significant effect on estimates of productivity. Observations made twice annually were found to be significantly different from estimates of productivity calculated using daily observation frequency. Still image and video methods of observation did not significantly affect estimates of productivity. The second objective was to identify factors that influence reproductive success of kittiwakes at Cape Resurrection by 1) determining the effect of nest characteristics on individual nest success, 2) identifying the effect of behavior of breeding adults during the incubation period on hatch success, 3) determining the effect of seasonal weather patterns on loss events, and 4) investigating the relationship between annual productivity and sea surface temperature (SST) over a 5 year period. Model analysis of nest characteristics on individual nest success indicated that mainland/island location and nest height above water influenced individual nest success. Behavior of breeding adults did not influence hatch success. Nest loss was influenced by average wind speeds. Annual SST was not correlated with annual productivity over a 5 year time period. Based on the results of this study, I recommend remote camera technologies for the purpose of studying cliff-nesting seabirds in remote locations and found them a useful tool for identifying and tracking factors that influence the breeding success of these populations over a multiyear time period.
Thesis (M.S.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2016
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