• 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.
    • Dietary effects on protein turnover in three pinniped species, Eumetopias jubatus, Phoca vitulina, and Leptonychotes weddellii

      Inglis, Susan D.; Castellini, Michael; Atkinson, Shannon; Barboza, Perry; Carpenter, James; Rea, Lorrie (2019-05)
      The role of dietary protein in pinniped (seal and sea lion) nutrition is poorly understood. Although these marine mammals derive the majority of their daily energetic needs from lipid, lipids cannot supply essential amino acids which have to come from protein fractions of the diet. Protein regulation is vital for cellular maintenance, molt, fasting metabolism, exercise and development. Proteins are composed of linked amino acids (AA), and net protein turnover is the balance between protein synthesis from component AA, and degradation back to AA. Protein regulation is influenced by dietary intake and quality, as well as physiological and metabolic requirements. In this work, pinniped diet quality was assessed through comparisons of amino acid profiles between maternal milk, blood serum, and seasonal prey of wild juvenile Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in Southcentral Alaska. Both Pacific herring (Clupei pallasi) and walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogramma) showed similar patterns to milk in essential and branched chain amino acid content. Serum amino acid profiles suggest the juvenile sea lions were not in protein deficit at the time of capture. Protein metabolism in the blood and urine was assessed through turnover studies using amino acid tracers. The turnover kinetics of ¹⁵N-labelled glycine in the blood amino acid and protein pool, red blood cells, and urine urea were measured in wild adult female Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) in the Antarctic. Labelled glycine moved quickly into serum protein and red blood cells (1-2 hours) and urinary urea (2-4 hours). The turnover rates in the blood amino acid and urine urea pools demonstrated a reduced turnover rate associated with molting. Lastly, whole body protein turnover experiments using a single bolus ¹⁵N-labelled glycine tracer method with endproduct collection of blood, feces and urine were conducted on 2 Cohort groups of captive Alaskan harbor seals over 2 years. Season was found to have the greatest effect on whole body protein turnover, which increased during the winter and decreased in the summer molt. Conversely, protein intake decreased during the winter and increased in the summer molt. This pattern corresponded with an increase in mass and protein synthesis in the winter, while mass decreased and protein degradation rates increased in molting seals. Weaning also influenced the patterns with reduced protein turnover in newly weaned animals that had recently transitioned from milk to a fish diet. This project presents results on whole body protein turnover rates in nonfasting pinnipeds and reveals that protein turnover is strongly regulated by developmental and seasonal physiological and metabolic demands.
    • Evaluation of prey composition and nutritional value of diets of free-ranging harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) from Tugidak Island

      Geiger, Gretchen L.; Atkinson, Shannon; Carpenter, James; Horstmann-Dehn, Larissa; Wynne, Kate (2012-12)
      Changes in climate can cause shifts in ecosystem structure that can affect quantity or quality of prey available to predator populations. Due to sex or age-specific behaviors of predators, certain classes within a population may be more severely impacted by changes in their diet. This study evaluated prey composition and nutritional value of summer diets of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) from Tugidak Island, Alaska from 2001-2009. The MIXIT-WIN program was used to estimate the nutritional value of average harbor seal diets. Changes in relative abundance of certain prey species were correlated to sea surface temperature anomalies. Despite changes in prey composition, the nutritional value of the average harbor seal diet did not change. Fecal corticosteroid metabolite profiles were analyzed to identify age and sex of individual harbor seals from scats. Profiles obtained from a known adult male harbor seal could be differentiated from those of known adult female and juvenile male seals. Similar profiles were observed in unknown age and sex samples. Even though diet diversity differed between these groups, the nutritional quality of consumed diets was not significantly different. Tugidak Island harbor seals have flexible diets allowing them to capitalize on available prey to maintain their nutritional intake.
    • Investigating ancient bison migration in Alaska: a bottom up approach using isotopes

      Funck, Juliette Marie; Wooller, Matthew; Druckenmiller, Patrick; Hundertmark, Kris; Ruether, Joshua (2020-05)
      Once abundant in the Arctic, bison (Bison bison) declined almost to extinction in the North but have subsequently been reintroduced into Alaska. The predecessors of these modern bison were the ancient steppe bison (Bison priscus), which were abundant throughout the Northern Hemisphere before their extinction during the Holocene. This thesis investigates the ecology and landscape-use of both the present-day wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) and the ancient steppe bison in Alaska using stable isotopes, among other methods. The stable carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions of animal tissues are traditionally used to investigate diet. However, this thesis uses the isotope composition of tail hairs from present day wood bison as a proxy for their nutritional stress. Nutritional stress of some wood bison appears to be influenced not only by food shortage during hard seasons, but also due to long-distance mobility. This insight provides a key to understanding the challenges of reintroduction of the species into Alaska today, and can also be applied to understand the nutritional stress and cost of dispersal by ancient animals. Whereas the mobility of present-day bison can be tracked using sophisticated satellite tracking technologies, studies of the paleo-mobility of ancient bison rely on isotopic markers such as strontium and oxygen isotope ratios preserved in their teeth. To aid this approach using isotopic geolocation, this thesis creates a map of bioavailable strontium modeled and based on strontium isotope composition of present-day rodent teeth from across Alaska. It then compares this map, together with an existing oxygen isotope map of precipitation in Alaska, with the strontium and oxygen isotopes preserved in a suite of ancient bison from Northern Alaska. This comparison brings to light some of the major habitation regions used by Bison on the North Slope of Alaska over the last ~50,000 years. Finally, these findings subsequently contribute to a detailed paleoecological investigation of a mostly articulated and complete ancient steppe bison found on the North Slope of Alaska. This final study reveals the life-history of an individual bison that dispersed from the coastal plain to the foothills of the Brooks Range early in his life, and shows that the trip was nutritionally costly. This information is combined with a suite of other paleoecological methods to provide a vivid life history of this ancient bison. We introduce new methodologies for studying these ancient animals that seek to bridge the gap between how we study present-day and the past.
    • Protein Content and Nutritional Value of Grains Grown in Interior Alaska

      Husby, F.M.; Wooding, F.J. (School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management, Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, 1985-12)
      This report is presented in three sections: (1) agronomic factors influencing protein content of grains, (2) influence of cultural technique on protein quality and nutritional value of 'Finnaska' barley for growing pigs, and (3) summary and conclusions.
    • Role of dietary fat and supplementation in modulating neurodegenerative pathology in two animal model systems

      Maulik, Malabika; Bult-Ito, Abel; Taylor, Barbara E.; Duffy, Lawrence; Kuhn, Thomas; Dunlap, Kriya (2018-12)
      Neurodegenerative disorders are progressive conditions that worsen over time and results in death of neurons. Parkinson's disease (PD) is a prevalent example of one such age-related disease, which is characterized by movement disorder (ataxia) and/or cognitive disability (dementia). Pathologically, PD is characterized by a toxic accumulation of α-synuclein protein in the midbrain leading to degeneration of the dopaminergic neurons. The etiology of PD is intricate, and the cause is attributed to genetic mutations and environmental factors like insecticides or heavy metals. Moreover, treatment options are limited and often aimed at treating the symptoms rather than the actual disease progression. Using the nematode model of Caenorhabditis elegans, I examined the effect of Alaskan bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) on α-synuclein overexpression and how such indigenous natural treatment can modulate key molecular targets like sirtuins, which are proteins involved in regulating cellular processes including aging, death and their resistance to stress. The impact of extrinsic factors like dietary fat on PD pathology has been sparsely explored and the molecular basis of such changes is not known. Through my thesis research, I also further investigated the influence of fat metabolism on key hallmarks of PD: α-synuclein overexpression and dopaminergic degeneration in the nematode model. Finally, I studied the interaction of dietary fat (normal, low and high fat) and Alaskan blueberry supplementation on metal induced neurotoxicity model of Mus musculus. Our results highlight the beneficial properties of Alaskan blueberries in combating proteotoxic stress and inflammation in both animal models. They also reiterate the benefit of low fat diet, on its own or in combination with supplementation in improving several PD-like molecular features and how consuming high fat can mask such health promoting outcomes. The current thesis work therefore, provides a foundation for further exploration of neurobiological changes associated with consumption of natural products and different diets and how such alterations can be extrapolated to humans.
    • The taming of the stew: humans, reindeer, caribou and food systems on the southwestern Seward Peninsula, Alaska

      Miller, Odin Tarka Wolf; Plattet, Patrick; Finstad, Greg; Simon, James; Yamin-Pasternak, Sveta (2019-08)
      This thesis addresses the question, what is the role of reindeer within communities of Alaska's southwestern Seward Peninsula, particularly as a food source? Employing a mixed-method approach, I conducted several months' fieldwork in the Seward Peninsula communities of Nome and Teller between 2016 and 2018, using methods that included participant observation, ethnographic interviews and a household survey designed to describe and quantify use of reindeer as food. As two varieties of the same species, Rangifer tarandus, reindeer and caribou are very similar in appearance. When caribou herds migrate nearby, reindeer tend to join them and become feral. Given the important role caribou played in Bering Straits Iñupiaq culture before their disappearance and the subsequent introduction of reindeer during the late 1800s, I contextualize the history of reindeer herding as part of a broader pattern of human-Rangifer relationships. During the past 30 years, reindeer herding has been disrupted by the return of migrating caribou to the region. Results from my fieldwork suggest that herding involves not only keeping reindeer separate from caribou, but also achieving community-level recognition of reindeer herds as domestic, privately owned and non-caribou. This is reflected in reindeer's role as a food source. Among Seward Peninsula Iñupiat, reindeer's gastronomic role is similar to that of caribou and other land mammals. Yet reindeer products can be monetarily exchanged in ways that caribou and other wild foods cannot. A further distinguishing feature of reindeer, as a domestic animal, is that it can be controlled and commodified while alive. As rural Alaskans seek to adapt their food systems to rapid social-ecological change, some have expressed renewed interest in reindeer herding. I conclude that herders must actively negotiate between views of reindeer herding as monetary and marketable, on the one hand, and as a food that embodies Iñupiaq values of generosity and (nonmonetary) sharing, on the other.