Has Prey Availability for Arctic Birds Advanced with Climate Change? Hindcasting the Abundance of Tundra Arthropods Using Weather and Seasonal Variations
Keywords: climate change, arthropods, Siberia, timing of breeding, phenology, Arctic birds
AbstractOf all climatic zones on earth, Arctic areas have experienced the greatest climate change in recent decades. Predicted changes, including a continuing rise in temperature and precipitation and a reduction in snow cover, are expected to have a large impact on Arctic life. Large numbers of birds breed on the Arctic tundra, and many of these, such as shorebirds and passerines, feed on arthropods. Their chicks depend on a short insect population outburst characteristic of Arctic areas. To predict the consequences of climate change for reproduction in these birds, insight into arthropod phenology is essential. We investigated weather-related and seasonal patterns in abundance of surface-active arthropods during four years in the tundra of NW Taimyr, Siberia. The resulting statistical models were used to hindcast arthropod abundance on the basis of a 33-year weather dataset collected in the same area. Daily insect abundance was correlated closely with date, temperature, and, in some years, with wind and precipitation. An additional correlation with the number of degree-days accumulated after 1 June suggests that the pool of potential arthropod recruits is depleted in the course of the summer. The amplitude of short-term, weather-induced variation was as large as that of the seasonal variation. The hindcasted dates of peak arthropod abundance advanced during the study period, occurring seven days earlier in 2003 than in 1973. The timing of the period during which birds have a reasonable probability of finding enough food to grow has changed as well, with the highest probabilities now occurring at earlier dates. At the same time, the overall length of the period with probabilities of finding enough food has remained unchanged. The result is an advancement of the optimal breeding date for breeding birds. To take advantage of the new optimal breeding time, Arctic shorebirds and passerines must advance the start of breeding, and this change could affect the entire migratory schedule. Because our analyses are based on a single site, we cannot conclude that this is a general pattern for the entire Arctic. To investigate the generality of this pattern, our approach should be applied at other sites too.