Environmental and life-history factors influence inter-colony multidimensional niche metrics of a breeding Arctic marine bird

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Science of the Total Environment

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Carbon-13, Climate change, Common eider, Nitrogen-15, Stable isotopes, THg






Human industrialization has resulted in rapid climate change, leading to wide-scale environmental shifts. These shifts can modify food web dynamics by altering the abundance and distribution of primary producers (ice algae and phytoplankton), as well as animals at higher trophic levels. Methylmercury (MeHg) is a neuro-endocrine disrupting compound which biomagnifies in animals as a function of prey choice, and as such bioavailability is affected by altered food web dynamics and adds an important risk-based dimension in studies of foraging ecology. Multidimensional niche dynamics (MDND; δ13C, δ15N, THg; total mercury) were determined among breeding common eider (Somateria mollissima) ducks sampled from 10 breeding colonies distributed across the circumpolar Arctic and subarctic. Results showed high variation in MDND among colonies as indicated by niche size and ranges in δ13C, δ15N and THg values in relation to spatial differences in primary production inferred from sea-ice presence and colony migratory status. Colonies with higher sea-ice cover during the pre-incubation period had higher median colony THg, δ15N, and δ13C. Individuals at migratory colonies had relatively higher THg and δ15N, and lower δ13C, suggesting a higher trophic position and a greater reliance on phytoplankton-based prey. It was concluded that variation in MDND exists among eider colonies which influenced individual blood THg concentrations. Further exploration of spatial ecotoxicology and MDND at each individual site is important to examine the relationships between anthropogenic activities, foraging behaviour, and the related risks of contaminant exposure at even low, sub-lethal concentrations that may contribute to deleterious effects on population stability over time. Overall, multidimensional niche analysis that incorporates multiple isotopic and contaminant metrics could help identify those populations at risk to rapidly altered food web dynamics.



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