• Biogeochemical tracers of change in Pacific walruses past and present

      Clark, Casey; Horstmann, Lara; Misarti, Nicole; Konar, Brenda; Severin, Ken; Lemons, Patrick (2019-05)
      Reduced sea ice and projected food web shifts associated with warming of the Arctic have raised concerns about the future of Arctic species. Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) use sea ice as a platform for molting, giving birth, and resting between foraging bouts. Exactly how sea ice loss will affect walruses is difficult to predict, due to a lack of information about regional ecosystems and their responses to climate change. The objectives of the research in this dissertation were to 1) examine how walrus diet changed in response to shifting sea ice conditions over the last 4,000 years, with the goal of generating predictions about how current and future ice loss may affect the walrus population; 2) make it easier to directly compare the results of retrospective and contemporary stable isotope studies of walruses; and 3) generate new tools to assist wildlife managers in monitoring the walrus population in an uncertain future. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of walrus bone collagen indicated that diet was similar during previous intervals of high and low sea ice; however, diet variability among individual walruses was greater when sea ice cover was low, suggesting decreased abundance of preferred mollusk prey. Modern walrus diet was different from both previous high and low ice intervals, meaning that food webs in the Arctic are still in a state of flux, or that recent changes are novel within the last 4,000 years. Tissue-specific stable isotope discrimination factors were generated for walrus muscle, liver, skin, and bone collagen to improve comparisons between retrospective and contemporary studies of walrus diet. Additionally, lipid normalization models were parameterized for walrus skin and muscle, thereby making future walrus stable isotope research more feasible by reducing analytical costs and allowing the use of non-lethal sample collection. Finally, a novel technique for estimating the age at onset of reproductive maturity using concentrations of zinc and lead in the teeth of female walruses was established. This new approach has the potential to become a powerful tool for monitoring the walrus population and may be applicable to other species. Use of this technique on archived specimens may make it possible to examine changes in wildlife population dynamics across thousands of years.
    • Crop modeling to assess the impact of climate change on spring wheat growth in sub-Arctic Alaska

      Harvey, Stephen K.; Zhang, Mingchu; Karlsson, Meriam; Fochesatto, Gilberto (2019-05)
      In the sub-arctic region of Interior Alaska, warmer temperatures and a longer growing season caused by climate change could make spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) a more viable crop. In this study, a crop model was utilized to simulate the growth of spring wheat in future climate change scenarios RCP4.5 (medium-low emission) and RCP8.5 (high emission) of Fairbanks, Alaska. In order to fulfill such simulation, in 2018 high quality crop growth datasets were collected at the Fairbanks and Matanuska Valley Experiment Farms and along with historic variety trial data, the crop model was calibrated and validated for simulating days to maturity (emergence to physiological maturity) and yield of spring wheat in Fairbanks. In the Fairbanks 1989-2018 (baseline) climate, growing season (planting to physiological maturity) average temperature and total precipitation are 15.6° C and 122 mm, respectively. In RCP4.5 2020-2049 (2035s), 2050-2079 (2065s), and 2080-2099 (2090s) projected growing season average temperature and total precipitation are 16.7° C, 17.4° C, 17.8° C and 120 mm, 112 mm, 112 mm, respectively. In RCP8.5 2035s, 2065s, and 2090s projected growing season average temperature and total precipitation are 16.8° C, 18.5° C, 19.5° C and 120 mm, 113 mm, 117 mm, respectively. Using Ingal, an Alaskan spring wheat, the model simulated days to maturity and yield in baseline and projected climate scenarios of Fairbanks, Alaska. Baseline days to maturity were 69 and yield was 1991 kg ha-1. In RCP4.5 2035s, 2065s, and 2090s days to maturity decreased to 64, 62, 60 days, respectively, and yield decreased 2%, 6%, 8%, respectively. In RCP8.5 2035s, 2065s, and 2090s days to maturity decreased to 64, 58, 55 days, respectively, and yield decreased 1%, 3%, then increased 1%, respectively. Adaptation by cultivar modification to have a growing degree day requirement of 68 days to maturity in RCP4.5 2035s and RCP8.5 2035s resulted in increased yields of 4% and 5%, respectively. Climatic parameters of temperature and precipitation per growing season day are projected to become more favorable to the growth of spring wheat. However, precipitation deficit, an indicator of water stress was found to stay similar to the baseline climate. Without adaption, days to maturity and yield are projected to decrease. Selection and/or breeding of spring wheat varieties to maintain baseline days to maturity are a priority to materialize yield increases in the area of Fairbanks, Alaska.
    • Reproductive success of American and Pacific golden-plovers (Pluvialis dominica and P. fulva) in a changing climate

      Overduijn, Kelly S.; Powell, Abby N.; Handel, Colleen M.; Sikes, Derek (2019-05)
      Climate change is increasing air temperatures and altering hydrologic systems in arctic environments, which will create positive feedbacks on shrub growth and advance the phenology of arthropods, important prey for many Arctic-breeding birds. Little is understood about how such climate-induced changes in habitat and prey availability may affect reproductive success of migratory birds during the short arctic breeding season. Worldwide, declines in shorebird populations, including arctic-breeding species, have recently become apparent. Projected changes in climate are expected to benefit Arctic-breeding shorebirds in the short-term by increasing reproductive success and survival, primarily through prolongation of summer. Over time, however, reductions in the quantity and quality of open tundra habitat and changes in prey availability may adversely affect shorebird reproduction and exacerbate current population declines. I evaluated the reproductive success of two shorebird species, American (Pluvialis dominica) and Pacific (P. fulva) Golden-Plovers, in relation to vegetation extent and phenology. I collected data over two field seasons (2012-2013) on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Both species selected nest sites with less cover of tall shrubs and other tall vegetation than available at random sites within their territories. American Golden-Plovers selected territories and nest sites that were higher in elevation and had more rocky substrates and less graminoid vegetation than those selected by Pacific Golden-Plovers. Nest survival was equivalent in the two species and similar to that found in other arctic-breeding shorebirds. Over the 27-d incubation period the probability of a nest having at least one egg survive to hatch averaged 0.39 (95% CI: 0.28, 0.49). Nest survival was not explicitly associated with habitat features at nest sites; however, nest survival was lower during the year with earlier spring phenology and declined with the age of the nest, both of which may have been at least partially related to growth of vegetation. Future research should examine reproductive success in a comprehensive manner, in which multiple aspects of a species' reproductive ecology is evaluated, allowing a more complete understanding of the effects of climate change on recruitment into populations through the combined effects of habitat structure, food resources, and climate.