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Among migratory animals, particularly those living in distant and varied environments, climate change has the potential to affect the phenology and the synchrony between seasons. In birds, migration and reproduction are two energetically costly activities that may be prone to carry-over effects between seasons.
I am studying the migration of the long-tailed jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus), a long-distance migratory seabird. Its lifestyle is one of the most extreme of the Arctic. During the winter, this species is exclusively pelagic, whereas in summer it breeds in the arctic tundra and is no longer feeding at sea. However, migration routes and wintering areas of the Canadian High-Arctic populations are not known yet.
During the breeding season, the diet of the long-tailed jaeger is almost exclusively based on lemmings. Thus, it may be in competition with other avian predators such as snowy owls, rough-legged hawks and glaucous gulls, which are exploiting the same resource. Furthermore, all those species are breeding and feeding in the same environment. Thereby, food and spatial partitioning may occur to minimize competition.
The main aims of my project are to (1) study the migration of the long-tailed jaeger breeding in the Canadian High-Arctic, (2) identify factors influencing its breeding success, including carry-over effects, and (3) evaluate the interspecific competition for food and space during breeding among the main avian predators of the tundra.
Research activities will mainly be performed on Bylot Island (Nunavut), where 60 light-leveled recording geolocators have been and will be deployed between 2014 and 2016 in order to track the migration of jaegers. Ten geolocators will also be deployed on Igloolik Island (Nunavut) in 2016. Those small devices use the variation in day length (based on daylight) to record the migration trajectories. Because jaegers are faithful to their breeding site, we will be able to recover the devices to download the data and follow their reproductive success the next year. Thus, it will be possible to link the migration, wintering area and reproductive success of each individual.
Since 2007, we have monitored all the nest of avian predators in the Qarlikturvik Valley on Bylot Island. All nests in the study area are geo-referenced. Regurgitation pellets are also collected at the nest to characterize their diet.
This project represents one of the few studies that will link the conditions encountered during the wintering period and reproductive success in a long-distance migratory species nesting in the High Arctic. These results will improve our understanding of the role carry-over effects in the reproduction and population dynamics of migratory seabirds. In addition, jaegers are using two of the ecosystems most affected by climate change, namely the Arctic tundra and oceans of the southern hemisphere. As a predator at the top of the food chain, jaegers could be an ecological indicator of the ongoing changes in those ecosystems.
Schmidt, E.E., Fauteux, D., Therrien, J.-F., Gauthier, G., Seyer, Y., 2020. Improving diet assessment of Arctic terrestrial predators with the size of rodent mandibles. Journal of Zoology, 311(1): 23-32. DOI: 10.1111/jzo.12756.
Seyer, Y., Gauthier, G., Bernatchez, L., Therrien, J.-F., 2019. Sexing a Monomorphic Plumage Seabird Using Morphometrics and Assortative Mating. Waterbirds, 42(4): 380-392.