skip to main content

Title: Use of marine vs. freshwater proteins for egg‐laying and incubation by sea ducks breeding in Arctic tundra

Understanding dietary nutrient sources is fundamental to conserving sensitive species, especially as climate change alters food web dynamics. Migratory species that depend on both marine and terrestrial habitats face unique challenges, as the locations and quality of resources in the two realms may respond quite differently to environmental changes, with potential for spatial and temporal carryover effects. For sea ducks (Mergini) that winter at sea but move inland to breed, body size may determine their capacity to store nutrient reserves for later use in alternative habitats. We assessed ultimate sources of protein for reproduction in four sea duck species in northern Alaska: smaller‐bodied Long‐tailed Ducks and Steller's Eiders (Clangula hyemalisandPolysticta stelleri), and larger‐bodied Spectacled and King Eiders (Somateria fischeriandSomateria spectabilis). To assess the relative use of local freshwater foods vs. marine protein for both egg production and body maintenance of incubating females, we measured stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in egg membranes, red blood cells, marine and freshwater invertebrates, and vegetation. For egg production, isotope mixing models indicated that proteinaceous egg membranes of all four species were derived mostly (89%–95%) from freshwater foods on the breeding grounds, with broad individual variation in specific prey types selected by the larger species. For incubation, isotopes in red blood cells indicated that body maintenance of females also relied mainly (87%–91%) on freshwater foods in Long‐tailed Ducks and Steller's Eiders. However, incubating Spectacled and King Eiders obtained only about 60% of their protein from freshwater foods and the remainder from marine‐derived body tissues. The latter strategy allows the larger‐bodied species to incubate almost continuously, whereas the smaller species must take more frequent incubation breaks and generally incur higher rates of predation on eggs. Thus, depending on body size, cross‐seasonal effects of feeding conditions in marine habitats may strongly influence population processes well after the birds move to inland nesting sites. Although conservation programs on land and sea are often researched, planned, and administered by different agencies and organizations, our results emphasize the need to coordinate marine and land‐based efforts for species that integrate conditions across both environments.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Wetlands in Arctic tundra support abundant breeding waterbirds. Wetland types differing in area, depth, vegetation, and invertebrate biomass density may vary in importance to birds, and in vulnerability to climate change. We studied availability and use of different wetland types by prelaying females of four species of sea ducks (Mergini) breeding on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska, USA: long‐tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis) and Steller's (Polysticta stelleri), spectacled (Somateria fischeri), and king eiders (Somateria spectabilis). All four species preferred shallow vegetated wetlands versus deeper lakes. The ducks spent almost all their active time feeding, but their occurrence in different wetland types was not affected by the relative biomass density of known prey or of all invertebrates that we sampled combined. Sea ducks strongly preferred wetlands dominated by emergent and submersedArctophila fulvaover those dominated by the sedgeCarex aquatilis, despite the much greater number, total area, and invertebrate biomass density ofCarexwetlands. The hens depend heavily on local invertebrate prey for protein to produce eggs; thus, their preference forArctophilawetlands likely reflects greater accessibility of prey in the near‐surface canopy and detritus ofArctophila. Such shallow wetlands decreased substantially in number (−17%) and area (−30%) over 62 years before 2013 and appear highly susceptible to further declines with climate warming. Impacts on sea ducks of climate‐driven changes in availability of important wetland types will depend on their adaptability in exploiting alternative wetlands.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Communal nesting is a behaviour that involves multiple females laying eggs in the same nest or nesting site. This behaviour may be a consequence of a shortage of preferable nest sites (constraint hypothesis) or an adaptation generated by fitness benefits associated with egg aggregation (adaptive hypothesis). Experimental tests of these hypotheses require information about maternal nest site choice and its fitness consequences. To address these, we studied a lizard (brown anole;Anolis sagrei) that produces single‐egg clutches, but often aggregates eggs in nest sites. In a lab study, females were given the option of nesting in (a) soil previously used as nest substrate vs. fresh soil and (b) soil with eggshells vs. without eggshells. We also experimentally examined the effects of egg aggregation by incubating eggs singly, in groups of four, and in groups of nine. We recorded egg surface temperature, water uptake, and hatchling morphology. Females were more likely to nest in pots with used soil and with eggshells than in pots with fresh soil or without eggshells. We observed no effects of egg aggregation on egg survival, egg temperature, or most measures of hatchling morphology. However, singly‐incubated eggs absorbed more water than eggs incubated in the four and nine egg aggregations and this resulted in offspring with greater body condition (i.e. heavier for their length) at hatching. The behavioural experiment demonstrates that females actively choose nest sites that have been used previously (as expected under the adaptive hypothesis), but the egg‐aggregation experiment shows no benefits to offspring based on the variables measured. Thus, results of the behaviour study support the adaptive hypothesis; however, results from our egg‐incubation study do not. Likely, the adaptive and constraint hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, and a diversity of factors influence the evolution of communal nesting behaviour.

    more » « less
  3. Freshwater salinity varies in natural systems and plays a role in species distribution. Anthropogenic alterations to freshwater salinity regimes include sea level rise and subsequent intrusion of saline waters to inland habitats. While mayflies are generalized to be sensitive to increasing salinity, we still know remarkably little about the physiological processes (and their plasticity) that determine the performance of species in a changing world. Here, we explored life-history outcomes and physiological plasticity in a population of Callibaetis floridanus (Ephemeroptera: Baetidae) from a coastal pond that routinely experiences saltwater intrusion. We reared naiads from egg hatch to adulthood across a gradient of increasing salinities (113, 5,020, 9,921 μS/cm). Radiotracer flux studies ( 22 Na, 35 SO 4 , and 45 Ca) were conducted in naiads reared at each salinity, revealing a positive association between ionic concentration and uptake rates. However, the influence of rearing history on ionic influx rates was apparent when naiads were transferred from their respective rearing water to the other experimental conditions. For example, we observed that naiads reared in the low salinity treatment (113 μS/cm) had 10.8-fold higher Na uptake rates than naiads reared at 9,921 μS/cm and transferred to 113 μS/cm. Additionally, naiads acclimated to the higher salinity water exhibited reduced uptake in ion-rich water relative to those reared in more dilute conditions (e.g., in 9,921 μS/cm water, 113 and 5,020 μS/cm acclimated naiads had 1.5- and 1.1-fold higher Na uptake rates than 9,921 μS/cm acclimated naiads, respectively). We found no significant changes in survival (80 ± 4.4%, mean ± s.e.m.) or naiad development time (24 ± 0.3 days, mean ± s.e.m.) across these treatments but did observe a 27% decrease in subimago female body weight in the most dilute condition. This reduction in female weight was associated with higher oxygen consumption rates in naiads relative to the other rearing conditions. Collectively, these data suggests that saline adapted C. floridanus may be more energetically challenged in dilute conditions, which differs from previous observations in other mayfly species. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Elucidating factors that limit the number of offspring produced is fundamental to understanding life‐history evolution. Here, we examine the hypothesis that parental ability to maintain an optimal physical developmental environment for all offspring constrains clutch size via effects on offspring quality.

    Experimental laboratory studies of birds have shown that a <1°C difference in average incubation temperature has diverse effects on fitness‐related post‐hatching offspring phenotypes. Thus, the inability of parents to maintain optimal incubation temperatures could constrain clutch sizes.

    A fundamental question that has not been sufficiently addressed is whether larger clutch sizes lead towithinnest variation in egg temperature that is large enough to produce offspring with different phenotypes within a brood. This could lead to differential survival among offspring, and could create a trade‐off between offspring number and quality.

    We manipulated clutch size in nests of free‐living wood ducks and measured incubation temperature among and within clutches using multiple temperature loggers.

    As clutch size increased, average incubation temperatures were lower and more variable, and eggs took longer to hatch. Notably, the range inaverageincubation temperature among eggswithinnests increased with clutch size and exceeded 1°C in large clutches. Clutch size did not affect hatch success.

    In conjunction with our companion laboratory studies that used artificial incubation to document the effects of temperature variation on fitness‐related traits in this species, our work suggests that suboptimal incubation temperatures could be a factor that limits clutch size through diminishing returns on post‐hatch offspring quality.

    A freeplain language summarycan be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

    more » « less
  5. ABSTRACT Background

    Plant-based diets may help improve measures of body fat, blood cholesterol, glucose metabolism, and inflammation. However, limited evidence suggests that the health effects of reducing animal products may depend on the quality of plant-based foods consumed as caloric replacements.


    This study examined how temporarily restricting consumption of meat, dairy, and egg (MDE) products for religious purposes influences cardiometabolic health biomarkers and whether any effects of MDE restriction on biomarkers are modified by concurrent shifts in calories, fish, and distinct plant-based foods.


    This study followed a sample of 99 individuals in the United States with varying degrees of adherence to Orthodox Christian (OC) guidance to abstain from MDE products during Lent, the 48-d period prior to Easter. Dietary composition was estimated from FFQs and 7-d food records; measures of body fat, blood lipids, glucose metabolism, and inflammation were collected prior to and at the end of Lent.


    Each serving decrease in MDE products was associated with an average −3.7% (95% CI: −5.5%, −2.0%; P < 0.0001) and −3.6% (95% CI: −5.8%, −1.3%; P = 0.003) change in fasting total and LDL blood cholesterol, respectively, which were partly explained by minor weight loss. However, the total/HDL cholesterol ratio did not significantly decrease due to an average −3.2% (95% CI: −5.8%, −0.6%; P = 0.02) change in HDL cholesterol. No associations between MDE restrictions and shifts in measures of body fat, glucose, insulin, or C-reactive protein were observed. The data could not provide evidence that changes in cardiometabolic health biomarkers in relation to MDE restriction were modified by concurrent shifts in calories, fish, or plant-based foods.


    Temporary MDE restrictions practiced by this sample of OCs in the United States during Lent had minimal effects on cardiometabolic disease risk factors. Further research among larger samples of OCs is needed to understand how nutritionally distinct and complex combinations of plant-based foods may modify the health effects of religious fasting from MDE products.

    more » « less