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Limits to benthic feeding by eiders in a vital Arctic migration corridor due to localized prey and changing sea ice

August 1, 2015

Four species of threatened or declining eider ducks that nest in the Arctic migrate through the northeast Chukchi Sea, where anticipated industrial development may require prioritizing areas for conservation. In this nearshore corridor (10–40 m depth), the eiders’ access to benthic prey during the spring is restricted to variable areas of open water within sea ice. For the most abundant species, the king eider (Somateria spectabilis), stable isotopes in blood cells, muscle, and potential prey indicate that these eiders ate mainly bivalves when traversing this corridor. Bivalves there were much smaller than the same taxa in deeper areas of the northern Bering Sea, possibly due to higher mortality rates caused by ice scour in shallow water; future decrease in seasonal duration of fast ice may increase this effect. Computer simulations suggested that if these eiders forage for >15 h/day, they can feed profitably at bivalve densities >200 m−2 regardless of water depth or availability of ice for resting. Sampling in 2010–2012 showed that large areas of profitable prey densities occurred only in certain locations throughout the migration corridor. Satellite data in April–May over 13 years (2001–2013) indicated that access to major feeding areas through sea ice in different segments of the corridor can vary from 0% to 100% between months and years. In a warming and increasingly variable climate, unpredictability of access may be enhanced by greater effects of shifting winds on unconsolidated ice. Our results indicate the importance of having a range of potential feeding areas throughout the migration corridor to ensure prey availability in all years. Spatial planning of nearshore industrial development in the Arctic, including commercial shipping, pipeline construction, and the risk of released oil, should consider these effects of high environmental variability on the adequacy of habitats targeted for conservation.

Publication Year 2015
Title Limits to benthic feeding by eiders in a vital Arctic migration corridor due to localized prey and changing sea ice
DOI 10.1016/j.pocean.2015.05.014
Authors James R. Lovvorn, Aariel R. Rocha, Stephen C. Jewett, Douglas Dasher, Steffen Oppel, Abby Powell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Progress in Oceanography
Index ID 70192870
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle