Avian Conservation and Ecology
antipredator behavior, arctic fox, arctic nesting seabird, Common Eider, heart rate response, polar bear, predation threat
Predator-prey dynamics in the Arctic are being altered with changing sea ice phenology. The increasing frequency of predation on colonial nesting seabirds and their eggs by the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is a consequence of bears shifting to terrestrial food resources through a shortened seal-hunting season. We examined antipredator responses in a colony of nesting Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima) on East Bay Island, Nunavut, Canada, which is exposed to established nest predators, such as arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), but also to recent increases in polar bear nest predation due to the bears’ lost on-ice hunting opportunities. Given eiders’ limited eco-evolutionary experience with bears, we aimed to experimentally contrast eider responses to the recent predation pressure by polar bears to those induced by their more traditional mammalian predator, the arctic fox. Our goal was to characterize whether this population of eiders was vulnerable to a changing predator regime. Using simulated approaches of visual stimuli of both predator types, we measured eider heart rate and flight initiation distance as physiological and behavioral metrics, respectively, to characterize the perceived risk of and subsequent response to imminent threat posed by these two predators that differ in historical encounter rates. Eider heart rates were more responsive to impending visual cues of arctic foxes compared to polar bears, but birds responded behaviorally to all simulated threats with similar flight initiation distances. Results suggest eiders may not perceive the full risk that bears pose as egg and adult predators, and are therefore expected to suffer negative fitness consequences from this ongoing and increasing interaction. Eiders may therefore require conservation intervention to aid in their management.
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Geldart, Erica A.; Love, Oliver P.; Gilchrist, H. Grant; Barnas, Andrew F.; Harris, Christopher M.; and Semeniuk, Christina A.D.. (2023). Heightened heart rate but similar flight responses to evolved versus recent predators in an Arctic seabird. Avian Conservation and Ecology, 18 (1).