• King eider migration and seasonal interactions at the individual level

      Oppel, Steffen; Powell, Abby; Murphy, Edward; Verbyla, Dave; O'Brien, Diane (2008-12)
      Seasonal interactions describe how events during one season of the annual cycle of a migratory bird affect its fitness in subsequent seasons. Understanding the strength and mechanism of seasonal interactions is important to predict how migratory birds will respond to future challenges caused by habitat loss and climate change. This dissertation explores seasonal interactions between different stages of the annual cycle in an arctic-breeding sea duck, the King Eider (Somateria spectabilis). Concerns over recent population declines and potential effects of climate change on marine habitats used by the species highlight the need for a better understanding of its life history. I used satellite telemetry to describe migration routes, timing of migration events, and geographic regions used by King Eiders throughout the year. I found highly variable movement patterns, and wide dispersion of King Eiders to three regions in the Bering Sea during winter. I then developed stable isotope techniques to examine seasonal interactions at the individual level. First, I examined the relative contribution of body reserves to egg production using stable isotope analysis of egg components and blood. I found that most birds use only small proportions of body reserves to produce eggs, but rather rely on nutrients obtained on breeding grounds to form a clutch. Thus, contrary to general expectation, King Eiders use an income strategy to produce eggs, and I hypothesize that they may retain body reserves for incubation. Body reserves may reflect the residual body condition from the previous winter. I further examined whether females wintering in different regions in the Bering Sea had different rates of nest survival. The northern Bering Sea has a higher benthic biomass and is closer to breeding grounds than winter regions farther south. However, nest survival rates of female King Eiders in northern Alaska did not differ between females that had wintered in the northern or southern Bering Sea. Overall, I found large individual variation in movement and breeding strategies, and little evidence for strong seasonal interactions between winter, spring, and summer. This indicates that King Eiders are a very adaptable species that depend on resources acquired on breeding grounds to a larger extent than previously assumed.