Warmer, wetter weather could create problems for nesting Arctic seabirds

Posted By: Staff
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Washington, March 25 (ANI): A team of Canadian scientists has determined that warmer, wetter weather in the Canadian Arctic could create problems for nesting seabirds.

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," said 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," he added.

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.

Few birds winter in the Arctic because of the harsh climate conditions. But in the spring, there is a veritable explosion as millions of birds return to nest.

Seabirds in Mallory's study area tend to spend the winter months floating in the North Atlantic ocean.

When they return in the spring, conditions are often still very harsh.

The Arctic has been getting warmer and increased temperatures create stronger storm fronts and bring more precipitation to what is essentially a desert region.

For birds adapted to a cold, dry climate, these changes could be very challenging.

"Arctic seabirds don't do well in really heavy, wet snowfall. Chicks hatch in early August and they expect it to be dry and cool. They can't handle soaking wet for very long, even if it is warmer," said Mallory.

These birds have adapted to past climate shifts, but the changes occurred over long periods of time.

It might be difficult for them to adjust to the rapid changes now underway. (ANI)

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