Global environmental change is encompassing climate change, species decline and extinction, as well as ecosystem and human health. This major issue is caused by human population growth and consumption, energy use, land use changes, and pollution (1). Climate change impacts in the Arctic are expected to be faster and stronger than in any other place in the world. Wildlife habitats are likely going to shift and move northwards. In response to those rapid changes, flora and fauna will have to adapt. This means that species diversity, abundance, range and distribution are likely going to change and this will have profound effects on the Arctic ecosystem (2).
Migratory animals are currently suffering global declines, and their conservation requires an understanding of the space they use year-round. In the Arctic, timing and success of breeding can be linked to events happening previously thousands of kilometers away in areas that are heavily impacted by human development.
What happens elsewhere on the planet will be impacting differently species that we observe in the North particularly as they spend most of their lifecycle out of the Arctic. For example, exposure to avian flu, drought impacting prey production or lower predation pressure at key stopovers, could impact bird species. Those events (being positive or negative) will have an effect on the Arctic ecosystem through variation in species abundance and the interactions between species. As they make the bridge between many ecosystems, migratory birds act as sentinel species and observations of abundance and health of populations in the Arctic is reflecting the overall quality of habitats they use throughout the year, going as far as the Antarctic.
In order to define the current trends and orient wildlife management, an ecosystem wide, year-round and long-term monitoring program is required. This program will be implemented gradually following collaboration opportunities but will eventually cover all aspects of the Arctic ecosystem.
Developing long term monitoring and research strategies for the documentation of breeding and migratory ecology of Arctic-nesting migratory birds (predator and preys, nesting habitats, breeding densities, population trends, and migration requirement).
Use the data for management, monitoring the state of the environment, and for species conservation efforts.
Provide the data as an educational and research tool for public and scientific use; and to link the data with other studies on vegetation, wildlife and climate change made by POLAR at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station.
For 2018, we will develop several sub-projects:
Trends in Arctic-nesting migratory birds breeding ecology
We will look at the long-term variation in timing of arrival and reproduction as well as the breeding success of migratory species in the Ikaluktuutiak (Greiner) Lake watershed. We will relate these with parameters descriptive of the functioning of the ecosystem such as prey abundance and will document the progression in timing that is expected to vary with climate change.
Using modified malaise traps (a small vertical screen with attached collecting jar) and pitfall traps we will sample insects and other soil invertebrates regularly through the warmer season to describe the prey availability for insectivorous birds (June to September, close to Cambridge bay, three trap stations in each habitat type; upland, lowland and wetland). To look at regional variation in arthropod diversity and abundance, up to 20 Malaise traps will be deployed for extended periods (two to eight weeks depending on location) on Victoria Island and possibly other nearby locations (e.g. Gjoa Haven, Kugluktuk, Kugaaruk). Fixed and rotary wing aircraft support from the Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP) will be used to access remote locations. Samples will be processed at CHARS and analysed using High-Throughput DNA Sequencing (HTS) and Environmental DNA (eDNA) genomic methods. This will require shipping some samples to external labs in Ontario.
With the support of experts from the Canadian Museum of Nature, we will develop a monitoring program on small mammals (mostly lemmings). Lemming are a key species of the arctic tundra and their variation through time impact predator's reproduction success and productivity. Using Little Critter Live Mammal Trap traps and capture/mark/recapture technique we will describe the variation through the year in lemming population. Traps will be deployed as grids of up to 144 traps. Lemmings will receive a tag (transponder or ear tag) for later identification upon recapture and will then be released. Such device causes low to no harm to animals and are widely used in biological studies requiring identification of animals.
On rare occasions, small mammals may appear weak or agonizing during live-trapping due to potential cardio-respiratory failures or accidental injuries. Such animals will be euthanized by cervical dislocation as recommended by the Canadian Animal Care Canadian Council on Animal Care. All dead animals will be dissected to identify whether they were parasitized by tapeworms and kept for the Canadian Museum of Nature's collections. Also, to collect lemming and vole specimens for the Canadian Museum of Nature's collections we will use 3 snap-traps (Museum Special or Victor®) near active burrows. Traps will be activated for a maximum of 72 h and checked daily. We will proceed with snap-trapping in the study area until a maximum of 30 lemmings per species have been trapped (total of 60 lemmings due to the presence of only two species: brown lemmings and collared lemmings). We expect that this number will rarely be reached.
Migratory shorebirds are sentinel species of global change and most North-American populations are presenting population declines that are still poorly explained. As indirect interaction can impact shorebirds reproduction by making the arctic tundra more predator rich we are going to implement the protocols developed by ARCTIC web - interaction working group. This will help us gain in knowledge on the terrestrial ecology surrounding Cambridge bay and ease comparability with other sites in the Arctic as more than 12 sites located in more than 5 countries are using the same protocols. Data will be merged across sites and years to improve our understanding of the functioning and the influence of indirect interactions on arctic vertebrate communities in general.
All surveys will be conducted on foot. Birds will not be harassed during these observations. Wildlife will be identified with spotting scope and binoculars. Location will be obtained with GPS and rangefinder. Data collected will include abundance sex, age (adult or juvenile), and status (breeding or not breeding locally). Basic weather data will be collected and observation activities will be cancelled if conditions are suboptimal (for example: low visibility, strong winds). Daily species list will be filled up daily.
To document the spatial and annual variation in predation risk, we will use artificial shorebird nests. Those fake nests are made by placing 4 quails eggs in a man-made depression on the ground. The artificial nests are then revisited 2 times (after 48h and after 96h of exposure). We will deploy up to 100 nests (up to 50 early in the incubation (early June) and up to 50 late in the incubation (early July)). Half of these nest will have a cover made of lichen harvested locally to disentangle avian versus mammalian depredators.
Real shorebird nest will be opportunistically found and marked with small sticks to ease revisits. Up to 20 nests per main species (Semipalmated Sandpiper (calidris pusilla) and Baird's Sandpiper (calidris bairdii)) will be equipped with temperature probes or with motion triggered cameras to remotely define predation. Small probes nor cameras are elevating predation risk. Other species nests may receive temperature probes as well (less than 10 per species). Upon nest detection, eggs will be floated to assess timing of initiation. Eggs will be measured (weight, width and length) to define adult investment in clutch. All manipulations will be made with gloves to avoid leaving human scent behind that could induce predation. Nest will be later visited to define faith (e.g. success, failure), especially if nest is not monitored with temperature probe.
We may opportunistically find avian predator nests (Hawk, Falcon, Owl, Jaeger, Raven, Gull, Loon). We will take some basic information on those such as location, number of eggs and may revisit them to define hatching success and fledgling success. Additionally, following previous field work in Elu Inlet and Melville Sound in the early 1990, many avian predators were observed nesting and were mapped. We will revisit some areas showing former use by avian predators to look at consistency of species usage and investigate how it evolved through time.
We may opportunistically also find fox dens. These dens will be mapped and revisited to define productivity (number of cubs). Some dens may be equipped with motion triggered cameras to document diet (species brought back to den) and productivity. We will also collect some fresh fox scat (20 to 50 samples) to look at diet through DNA barcoding.
We will use faeces transects to obtain an estimate of herbivores abundance. As we will follow standards protocols, this will allow comparisons with other sites. Transects will be 30m long and placed randomly but marked with small wood stick to be able to revisit the same area year after year. We will be considering 5 species group: geese, hares, ptarmigan, caribou, muskox.
As snow goose are considered overabundant and thus have strong impact on the tundra ecosystem, we will visit 2 colonies close to Cambridge Bay. Colonies had their limits delineated in 2006. In 2011, aircraft surveys found important increase in geese in South-Eastern Victoria island (3). We intend to visit the Anderson bay and Icebreaker channel areas to define how important are the goose colonies. We plan on taking high resolution pictures to be able to later count snow geese.
Tracking migration path of migratory species
Using various technologies (e.g. DNA, stable isotopes, GPS), we will study the path of migratory birds across their range. Our tracking program will serve to identify key areas used by species in order to define important areas of use, and eventually identify critical ecosystem components in those areas.
Two species are currently targeted by this aspect of our monitoring program (the American Golden-Plover (pluvialis dominica) and the Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris Melanotos).
If American Golden-Plover or Pectoral sandpiper nests are found, adults will be trapped on the nest. Capture will be made with the use of a bownet or other capture device harmless to the animal or its eggs (mistnet, wooshnet, compressed air net). Bird will be manipulated nearby, but away from the nest. A metal band will be installed on the bird's tibia along with up to 4 small plastic bands for individual identification from afar. Basic measurements will be taken. A few drops of blood will be retrieved from the basilica vein for genetic analysis, and a few feathers will be collected: both 10th secondary flight feathers (closest flight feather from the body), 1st rectrice (most central tail feather), 5-10 breast feathers, as well as 5-10 back feathers. We will mark up to 15 American Golden plovers with satellite tags that are less than 5% of the bird's mass (American Golden-plovers will be <3.5%) as recommended in the Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research (4). Nests with and without adults tagged will be monitored to determine hatching success, allowing us to assess the effects of the tags on the adults. This will allow precise tracking of animal to document migration routes, stopover sites, and wintering locations of eastern and western breeding populations and establish general connectivity among wintering, migration, and breeding locations. No mortality is expected but, if this would happen, the birds will be collected for tissue sampling.
(1)Camill, P. (2010) Global Change. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):49
(2)ACIA (2005) Arctic climate impact assessment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
(3)Groves, D. J., and U. S. Fish. 2012. Migratory bird survey in the western and central Canadian Arctic - 201:54.
(4)Gaunt, Abbot S., Lewis W. Oring, K. P. Able, D. W. Anderson, L. F. Baptista, J. C. Barlow, and J. C. Wingfield. Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research. Washington, DC: The Ornithological Council, 2010. http://sccp.ca/sites/default/files/species-habitat/documents/Guidelines%20to%20the%20use%20of%20wild%20birds%20in%20research-ornithological%20council
o Number of people involved: maximum 5
o Method of air and/or ground transportation: Most of our activities will be carried by foot. We will use a set of temporary camp and will use existing ATV tracks and roads to move from one camp to the other. Occasionally, an helicopter (BELL 206) will be use (Regional arthropod monitoring, Snow goose colony survey and Raptor nest surveys).
o Type of equipment to be used:
-motion triggered cameras
-trapping equipment for birds
-trapping equipment for small mammals
-trapping equipment for invertebrates
-Seldom use of Helicopter (BELL 206)
-Solar panel mostly
-Generator 1000 W (backup)
-White gaz stove
o Type of fuel to be used and storage method(s)
ATV, Snowmobile and Generator run on unleaded gasoline and a small quantity will be stored at camp in jerry cans on top of a spill containment tray with absorbent. Up to four 20L jerry can will be stored on site. A small quantity of white gas will be used for cooking purposes and about 2 X 4L will be stored on site on a spill containment tray with absorbent. Helicopter use will require fuel but as the length of travel planed is small (under 500 km) we do require fuel caches and helicopter will be based solely at Cambridge Bay airport.
o Describe any structures that will be erected (permanent/temporary) including any camps and associated structures, docks, piers, and/or airstrips
A small temporary camp setting will be used. This camp will hold 1 cooking tent and up to 5 personal tents. Camp locations will change each 5 days. We will prefer barren ground/sandy area to reduce disturbance to the tundra at a minimum and will avoid wetland areas. Fuel will be stored on a spill containment tray and absorbent will be readily accessible to deal effectively with any fuel spill. Bear detectors and noise deterrent will be deployed during the whole duration of the camp. All food will be stored in tight containers to avoid smell and all trash will be collected in bear proof containers and brought back to Cambridge Bay.
o Type of local resources to be used including local accommodation(s)
When not on the field at the temporary camp, field personal will reside either at the available accommodation at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station or at the Arctic College Residence depending on availability.
o Location of the project to the nearest community(ies) (include distance(s) to communities)
Cambridge Bay. Depending on location of remote temporary field camp, distance to the community varies from 9 to 15 km.
o Any alternatives considered
We considered travelling every day to field site but this would reduce our workday significantly. Staying on the field at a remote camp allows us to optimise our stay.