IQALUIT, MARCH 2010 -- Warmer, wetter weather in the Canadian Arctic could create problems for nesting seabirds, say a team of Canadian scientists who, between them, have spent over 7,000 days observing birds in the North.
Arctic birds are uniquely adapted to survive in the cold, dry summers that mark the high Arctic. However, warmer temperatures are bringing more storm events, including incidents of heavy fog, rain, freezing rain, wet snow and stronger winds.
"It's not really a surprise," says Mark Mallory, a biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Iqaluit. "If a bird is adapted to cold conditions and you make things warmer, predictably they'll find things harder."
Mortality studies in seabirds typically focus on birds in tropical or temperate regions where 'normal' causes of death include population declines due to fishery collapse, ecto-parasites like ticks, introduced predators such as rats, and storms at sea.
Mallory and two other Canadian scientists decided to combine 33 years of observation into a paper that was released in Arctic, the journal of the Arctic Institute of North America. In it, the trio track the unusual ways Arctic seabirds die and they predict that a warming climate could have serious consequences for these birds. The study is based on observations of six species of birds on 11 different seabird colonies in the eastern Arctic ranging from northern Hudson Bay to Devon Island.
Typical causes of death include crashing into each other or cliffs during heavy fog, being slammed into the ocean by Katabatic winds or, perhaps most grizzly of all, dying from a combination of heat stress and blood loss due to mosquito attacks.
"I was working at a fulmar colony and after a couple of days of fog we'd see fulmars on the sea ice, alive but with their wings broken. These birds are phenomenal flyers, but you take away their visibility to a meter or two and maybe that causes problems.
|Contact: Ruth Klinkhammer|
Arctic Institute of North America