• Variation in age and size at maturity of Lake Clark, Alaska sockeye salmon

      Benolkin, Elizabeth B.; Margraf, Joseph; Woody, Carol Ann; Adkison, Milo (2009-12)
      Salmon returning to Lake Clark, Alaska are a valuable subsistence, commercial and ecological resource, and are an important component of the larger Kvichak River escapement. Average escapement to the Kvichak River declined sharply during 1996-2005, prompting studies to investigate age and size at maturity, key life history traits of salmon linked to reproductive success and survival. We examined potential factors which may influence sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka age and size at maturity: spawning habitat and ocean environment, and examined variation in both traits over time. Sockeye salmon age and length at maturity differed among spawning locations and between brood years, but no consistent patterns were observed among habitat types. Age and length at maturity differed over time; the proportion of older marine age 3 fish was larger in recent brood years, while fish were smaller during 1997-2001 compared to 1976-1980. Sea surface temperatures and coastal upwelling appeared to be important indicators of fish length, highlighting the importance of the ocean environment in salmon growth. These results demonstrate the complexity and importance of both the freshwater and ocean ecosystems in variation in age and size at maturity, and indicate that trends may not necessarily be similar among systems or years.
    • Vegetation-Climate Interactions Along A Transition From Tundra To Boreal Forest In Alaska

      Thompson, Catharine Copass; McGuire, A. David (2005)
      The climate of the Alaskan Arctic is warming more rapidly than at any time in the last 400 years. Climate changes of the magnitude occurring in high latitudes have the potential to alter both the structure and function of arctic ecosystems. Structural responses reflect changes in community composition, which may also influence ecosystem function. Functional responses change the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients. We examined the structural and functional interactions between vegetation and climate across a gradient of vegetation types from arctic tundra to boreal forest. Canopy complexity combines vegetation structural properties such as biomass, cover, height, leaf area index (LAI) and stem area index (SAI). Canopy complexity determines the amount of the energy that will be available in an ecosystem and will also greatly influence the partitioning of that energy into different land surface processes such as heating the air, evaporating water and warming the ground. Across a gradient of sites in Western Alaska, we found that increasing canopy complexity was linked to increased sensible heating. Thus, vegetation structural changes could represent an important positive feedback to warming. Structural changes in ecosystems are linked to changes in ecosystem function. High latitude ecosystems play an important role in the earth's climate system because they contain nearly 40% of the world's reactive soil carbon. We examined Net Ecosystem Production (NEP) in major community types of Northern Alaska using a combination of field-based measurements and modeling. Modeled NEP decreased in both warmer and drier and warmer and wetter conditions. However, in colder and wetter conditions, NEP increased. The net effect for the region was a slight gain in ecosystem carbon; however, our research highlights the importance of climate variability in the carbon balance of the study region during the last two decades. The next step forward with this research will be to incorporate these results into coupled models of the land-atmosphere system. Improved representations of ecosystem structure and function will improve our ability to predict future responses of vegetation composition, carbon storage, and climate and will allow us to better examine the interactions between vegetation and the atmosphere in the context of a changing climate.
    • Waterbird distribution and habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region, U.S.A.

      Steen, Valerie (2010-12)
      The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of north-central North America provides some of the most critical wetland habitat continent-wide to waterbirds. Agricultural conversion has resulted in widespread wetland drainage. Furthermore, climate change projections indicate a drier future, which will alter remaining wetland habitats. I evaluated Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) habitat selection and the potential impacts of climate change on the distribution of waterbird species. To examine Black Tern habitat selection, I surveyed 589 wetlands in North and South Dakota in 2008-09, then created multivariate habitat models. I documented breeding at 5% and foraging at 17% of wetlands surveyed, and found local variables were more important predictors of use than landscape variables, evidence for differential selection of wetlands where breeding and foraging occurred, and evidence fora more limited role of area sensitivity (wetland size). To examine the potential effects of climate change, I created models relating occurrence of five waterbird species to climate and wetland variables for the U.S. PPR. Projected range reductions were 28 to 99%, with an average of 64% for all species. Models also predicted that, given even wetland density, the best areas to conserve under climate change are Northern North Dakota and Minnesota.
    • Winter forage selection by barren-ground caribou: effects of fire and snow

      Saperstein, Lisa Beth (1993-05)
      Snow depth and hardness were the most influential factors in selection of feeding areas by caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in late winter in northwestern Alaska. Following a 1988 fire, plots were established in late March through April in burned and unbumed tussock tundra in 1990 and 1991. Snow in both burned and unbumed plots was shallower and softer at edges of caribou feeding craters than at adjacent undisturbed points in both years. There was little difference in snow depth or hardness between burned and unbumed plots, although caribou cratered in shallower snow in burned plots than in unbumed plots in 1990. Crater area was greater in unbumed plots in 1990, but there was no difference in crater area between burned and unbumed plots in 1991. Frequencies of particular plant taxa were only significant in determining selection of crater sites in unbumed plots in 1990, when caribou craters had higher relative frequencies of lichens and lower frequencies of bryophytes than unused areas. Fire reduced relative frequency and biomass of most plant taxa, with the exception of post-disturbance species, which occurred primarily in burned plots. Lichens were reduced in burned plots, and lichens composed 59-74% of the late-winter diet of caribou, as determined by microhistological analysis of fecal pellets. Biomass and relative frequency of Eriophorum vaginatum was greater in burned plots than in unbumed plots in 1991, and protein and in vitro digestibility levels were enhanced in samples of this species collected from burned plots in late winter.
    • Winter foraging ecology of moose in the Tanana Flats and Alaska Range foothills

      Seaton, C. Tom (2002-12)
      I studied woody browse distribution, production, removal, species composition, twig size, moose diets, and predicted daily intake of resident and migratory moose in the Tanana Flats and adjacent Alaska Range Foothills, Alaska, 1999-2000. Density of moose in these areas was high (1.1 moose/km²). Moose were experiencing density-dependent effects on reproduction and growth, exhibited by low adult twinning rate (6%) and absence of pregnant yearlings, yet 17.5 kg higher 10-month-old calf body weights in the migratory segment. Of all willow, poplar, and paper birch plants sampled, 74% had a broomed architecture, which I attributed to heavy use by moose. Using a model of daily moose intake based on bite mass and bite density, I estimated that 1) migratory moose met expected intake during winter while intake of resident moose was marginal, 2) moose could not meet their expected daily intake with the mean twig dry mass (0.26 g) remaining unbrowsed at end of winter, and 3) higher predicted intake by migratory moose than resident moose was consistent with their higher 10-month-old calf weights.
    • Winter habitat of arctic grayling in an interior Alaska stream

      Lubinski, Brian R. (1995-05)
      Placer mining and the lack of information on winter ecology of Arctic grayling Thymallus arcticus. has raised concern for this popular sportfish. A study was designed to validate aerial radio telemetry data and to locate and describe overwinter areas (OWA) of Arctic grayling in Beaver Creek, Alaska. Reliance on aerial data alone resulted in overestimation of survival and misidentification of 14 of 26 designated OWAs. Twenty-one Arctic grayling were tracked downstream 12-58 km to 12 OWAs spanning a 31-km section of Beaver Creek. Radio-tagged and untagged Arctic grayling occupied areas with ice thickness of 0.4-1.4 m overlying 0.06-0.52 m of water, flowing at 0.03-0.56 m/s. During winter, discharge, cross-sectional area, velocities, and water width in four OWAs decreased until late March; then, cross-sectional area increased due to an increase in discharge that pushed the ice upward. Adult Arctic grayling overwintered downstream of habitat disturbances, and occupied much shallower winter habitats than expected.