Increasing Shrubs Mean Changes for Some but Not All Arctic Birds

Scientists can now predict which avian species are most sensitive to the increasingly dominant shrub habitat spreading across Alaska, a capability that will be useful for natural resource agencies in Alaska charged with managing these resources.

The U.S. Geological Survey research examines the tolerance of 17 tundra-breeding birds to climate-driven changes in ground covering shrubs.

“We found that increases in shrub cover and density will negatively affect abundance of only a few tundra-reliant species, but potentially benefit others,” said Sarah Thompson, a Research Wildlife Biologist with the USGS and lead author of the study. “However, the results also suggest that as shrub height increases further, tundra birds will likely find habitat increasingly unsuitable.”

The USGS conducted over 200 surveys of birds and their habitats on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska between 2012 and 2014. In total, over 10,000 birds of 68 species were counted and recorded. The study then examined which components of increasing shrub dominance might have the greatest effect on future distribution and abundance of tundra-breeding birds. 

Source: ENN, 2017