Western sandpipers on video


This 18 August 2019 video is about western sandpipers.

These birds nest in Alaska and eastern Siberia, and migrate to winter in Mexico.

This week, for the first time, a western sandpiper was seen in the Netherlands.

Western sandpiper, first ever in the Netherlands


The western sandpiper in Dutch Friesland, photo Omrop Fryslân

On 15 August, for the first time ever, a western sandpiper was seen in the Netherlands.

This species nests in Alaska. Usually, they migrate to Mexico.

Now, however, a bird that had flown all the way across the Atlantic Ocean landed near Westhoek village in Dutch Friesland province. It attracted hundreds of birdwatchers.

The Alaskan vagrant sandpiper is there in the company of hundreds of sandpipers of other species; like the dunlin in the background of the photo.

Alaska lake seals unique, new research


This 2018 video is called Hidden Seals Of Siberia [Fresh Water Seal Documentary] | Wild Things.

From the University of Washington in the USA:

Chemical records in teeth confirm elusive Alaska lake seals are one of a kind

May 1, 2019

Summary: Lifelong chemical records stored in the canine teeth of an elusive group of seals show that the seals remain in freshwater their entire lives and are likely a distinct population from their relatives in the ocean. Their home territory, Iliamna Lake, is in the heart of the proposed Pebble Mine project.

Hundreds of harbor seals live in Iliamna Lake, the largest body of freshwater in Alaska and one of the most productive systems for sockeye salmon in the Bristol Bay region.

These lake seals are a robust yet highly unusual and cryptic posse. Although how the seals first colonized the lake remains a mystery, it is thought that sometime in the distant past, a handful of harbor seals likely migrated from the ocean more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) upriver to the lake, where they eventually grew to a consistent group of about 400. These animals are important for Alaska Native subsistence hunting, and hold a top spot in the lake’s diverse food web.

Scientists now know these “colonizing” seals must have found the lake suitable enough to stay and raise their offspring. Generations later, the lake-bound seals appear to be a genetically distinct population from their ocean-dwelling cousins — even though they are still managed as part of the larger Eastern Pacific harbor seal population.

But if the lake seals are distinct and show signs of local adaptation to their unique ecological setting, this would mean that their conservation — especially in the face of the rapidly changing climate of western Alaska and proposed industrial developments — should differ from that of nearby marine populations.

Lifelong chemical records stored in their sequentially growing canine teeth show that the Iliamna Lake seals remain in freshwater their entire lives, relying on food sources produced in the lake to survive. In contrast, their relatives in the ocean are opportunistic feeders, moving around to the mouths of different rivers to find the most abundant food sources, which includes a diverse array of marine food items in addition to the adult salmon returning to Bristol Bay’s nine major watersheds. These findings are described in a paper published online in March in Conservation Biology.

“We clearly show these seals are in the lake year-round, throughout their entire lives,” said lead author Sean Brennan, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “This gives us critical baseline information that can weigh in on how we understand their ecology, and we can use that information to do a better job developing a conservation strategy.”

This new study comes at a time when federal agencies are considering whether to permit mining activities in Bristol Bay, a region teeming with wildlife, including Alaska sockeye salmon. Iliamna Lake, and the seals and other animals that live there, is located in the heart of the proposed Pebble Mine project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this spring released a draft environmental impact statement that analyzes the project’s proposal, presents alternative plans and gives the public a chance to comment. Ultimately, the document will help decide whether the controversial mine is approved.

Because of their current conservation status, the Iliamna Lake harbor seals aren’t assessed as a distinct and ecologically significant population in the project’s draft environmental impact analysis. If the seals are determined to be a distinct population, that has important implications for how the Iliamna Lake system is managed, the study’s authors said. The lake and its resident fishes would then be considered critical habitat for seals.

Separately, federal regulators have considered whether the lake seals should be named a distinct population, but scientists have been unable to agree on whether the seals are both distinct, and ecologically and evolutionarily significant, mainly because little is known about their ecology — including whether adult lake seals potentially migrate to the ocean to feed each year.

Brennan was a doctoral student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks when he heard about early efforts to evaluate whether the lake seals were a distinct population. Chemical tracing methods he was using to track the life patterns of salmon could also work for the seals, he realized.

“The light just went off in my head,” Brennan said. “What I was doing for salmon was directly applicable to this population of seals.”

Brennan and collaborators at the UW, University of Utah and University of Alaska Anchorage looked at the chemical signatures present in the teeth of lake seals during each year of their life to better understand where they moved and what they ate. Specifically, the scientists drilled into the growth lines of the seals’ canine teeth, then measured the ratio of heavy and light isotopes of carbon, oxygen, and strontium present in each growth layer.

Because of the young bedrock geology of the Kvichak (QUEE-jak) River watershed, which encompasses Iliamna Lake, strontium isotope levels in the ocean are consistently much higher than in the lake. Unlike other elements, strontium signatures in mammal teeth directly reflect what animals assimilate from their environment, in particular, what they eat. Therefore, by looking at the strontium isotope ratios over the course of a seal’s life, the researchers saw that the ratios were consistent with lake signatures — meaning these seals only live in Lake Iliamna, depend principally on fish produced within the lake, and do not migrate to the ocean.

They also determined that young seals eat very little adult sockeye salmon. But later in life, the seals shift to supplement their diets with the seasonally abundant sockeye salmon that return each summer to the lake.

The researchers say this method could be used to better understand the life patterns of other elusive mammals around the world, such as river dolphins in the Amazon or the Mekong Basin. Broadly, marine mammals in coastal regions are among the most endangered animals on Earth, Brennan said.

“In terms of the broader picture of aquatic mammal conservation across the globe, I think we show that strontium isotopes can be really powerful because they collapse a lot of uncertainty. This method is completely underutilized across the world,” Brennan said.

Alaska wolf, bear killing unscientific


This 2014 video says by itself:

Grizzly Bears Catching Salmon | Nature’s Great Events | BBC

It’s the time of year when the salmon make their annual pilgrimage upstream to spawn, but leaping past the waiting hungry bears is no easy task.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

‘Outdated’ management plan increases risks to Alaska’s large carnivores

January 15, 2019

Alaskan wildlife management that prioritizes reducing bear and wolf populations so hunters can kill more moose, caribou and deer is both backward and lacks scientific monitoring, ecologists say in a paper published today in PLOS Biology.

Paring populations of large carnivores not only fails to meet the goal of creating a “hunting paradise” but may also interfere with important ecosystem services that predators atop the food chain provide, the scientists assert.

“Gray wolves, brown bears and black bears are managed in most of Alaska in ways designed to significantly lower their numbers,” said study co-author William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology in the Oregon State University College of Forestry. “Alaska is unique in the world because these management priorities are both widespread and legally mandated.”

The paper notes that favoritism toward moose, caribou and deer over large carnivores acquired legal backing in Alaska with the 1994 passage of the state’s Intensive Management Law. The legislation effectively calls for cutbacks in big carnivores to increase how many hoofed game animals are taken by humans.

“The law does also identify habitat management as a form of intensive management, but habitat management hasn’t been used effectively as a tool to increase abundance of these ungulates,” said corresponding author Sterling Miller, a retired research biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Therefore, the default tool is predator control, the most widespread form of which is liberalizing state hunting and trapping regulations for large carnivores. This liberalization has been most extreme for brown bears, as this species used to be managed very conservatively.”

The paper points out that reported kills of brown bears by hunters have more than doubled over the past three decades and that since 1980 regulations intended to reduce predators have been in effect even in Alaska’s 11 national preserves, which are managed by the National Park Service.

“Since 2000, state wildlife managers have done no studies to determine trends in brown bear populations anywhere in Alaska where intensive management for moose and caribou is ongoing and harvests of brown bears have, correspondingly, increased,” Miller said. “Basically, managers have liberalized regulations for large carnivores in a strategy of ‘kill as many as possible and hope that it is OK in the end.’ This is not science-based management.”

The authors stress that brown bears have the lowest reproductive rates of any large mammal in North America and are particularly susceptible to overharvest, and that the Alaskan government is the only wildlife-managing entity in the world whose goal is to reduce bear abundance.

“There are some places in Alberta, Canada, where wolves are being managed to reduce their abundance in the hope of keeping very small populations of woodland caribou from going extinct,” Miller said. “This is different because the objective of that management is a conservation objective and not an objective of middle-class people putting more wrapped packages of moose meat in their freezers.”

State and federal priorities for “subsistence hunting” are also somewhat problematic but only where they allow for harvests that aren’t really of a subsistence nature, the authors say.

“It is also worth noting that subsistence hunting occurs in most Alaska national parks and monuments as mandated by the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, known as ANILCA,” Miller said. “The act also mandates that Alaska national preserves are open to hunting and doesn’t have a restriction on it being limited to subsistence hunting.”

Many of the preserves are adjacent to national parks and both the parks and preserves were created by ANILCA. But with the loosening of hunting regulations for large carnivores in Alaska, the same more-lax regulations largely apply to the preserves as well, meaning predator control is occurring there too.

“Science-based management of large carnivores in most of Alaska will require the political will and wisdom to repeal Alaska’s Intensive Management Law,” the paper states. “Alternatively or additionally, it will require professional wildlife managers to resist adoption of predator reduction regulations that are not conducted as experiments and/or do not include adequate monitoring programs of both carnivores and ungulates.”

Co-authoring the paper with Ripple and Miller were John Schoen, who is retired from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Sanford Rabinowitch, who is retired from the National Park Service.

Additional information on trends in brown bear hunting regulations and harvests in Alaska is available in a 2017 paper by some of the same authors as the PLOS Biology article.

Pacific sea otters and nuclear bombs


This Associated Press video says about itself:

(7 Nov 1971) Protest demonstrations in Washington, Toronto, and Tokyo against the US American five megaton nuclear bomb test on Amchitka.

By Bethany Brookshire in the USA, 11:30am, November 7, 2018:

50 years ago, atomic testing created otter refugees

When the [Atomic Energy Commission] first cast its eye on the island of Amchitka as a possible site for the testing of underground nuclear explosions, howls of anguish went up; the island is part of the Aleutians National Wildlife Refuge, created to preserve the colonies of nesting birds and some 2,500 sea otters that live there…— Science News, November 9, 1968

Update

The commission said underground nuclear testing would not harm the otters, but the fears of conservationists were well-founded: A test in 1971 killed more than 900 otters on the Aleutian island.

Some otters remained around Amchitka, but 602 otters were relocated in 1965–1972 to Oregon, southeast Alaska, Washington and British Columbia — areas where hunting had wiped them out. All but the Oregon population thrived, and today more than 25,000 otters live near the coastal shores where once they were extinct.

This 2015 video says about itself:

The Sea Otter’s Enchanted Forest | America’s National Parks

Endangered sea otters protect the kelp beds by preying on small undersea life, which would otherwise overpopulate.

Arctic wolf spiders and climate change


This video says about itself:

29 May 2009

Identifying spiders in Alaska requires looking for the American house spider, which is bulbous and splotched, or the wolf spider, which has long, slender, hairy legs. Watch out for Alaskan spiders with helpful facts from an entomology student in this free video on arachnids.

Expert: Lauren Saldana

Bio: Lauren Saldana is an entomology student at Fresno State University in California who specializes in arachnid studies.

Filmmaker: Brandon Payan

From Washington University in St. Louis in the USA:

Warming alters predator-prey interactions in the Arctic

Spiders could buffer some effects of warming on decomposition

July 23, 2018

Summary: Under warming conditions, Arctic wolf spiders’ tastes in prey might be changing, according to new research — initiating a new cascade of food web interactions that could potentially alleviate some impacts of global warming.

Wolf spiders are so abundant that they outweigh real wolves in the Alaskan Arctic by several orders of magnitude. Their sheer numbers make them one of the important predators on the tundra. They may also be important in buffering some effects of climate change.

Under warming conditions, arctic wolf spiders’ tastes in prey might be changing, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis, initiating a new cascade of food web interactions that could potentially alleviate some impacts of global warming.

The surprising result of this chain reaction is described in a new paper by Amanda Koltz, a postdoctoral researcher in biology in Arts & Sciences, published July 23 in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

The ways in which animals interact with each other will be affected by climate change, scientists generally agree. But few studies have explored the larger picture of how these changes will alter not just individual species, but concurrently impact all of the biological and physical interactions in a given environment.

“We often think about how warmer temperatures might strengthen or weaken interactions between predators and their prey”, Koltz said. “But in this case we show that when warming alters those interactions, it can also lead to changes in ecosystem-level processes like decomposition rates.”

Koltz and her team study wolf spiders. They are less than half an inch long, but in a warming future, they might be both larger and more prolific (so don’t say we didn’t warn you).

Wolf spiders don’t make webs. This type of spider hunts on the ground and can eat almost anything smaller in size, from plant-eating bugs to other predators.

But they really love to eat Collembola — the small arthropods commonly called springtails. It’s this spider snack that connects them to the belowground environment. Springtails eat both decaying plants and fungus. And, in wet tundra, the fungus in the ground largely controls how quickly dead plant matter is decomposed and its nutrients released into the soil and air.

Arctic wolf spiders are thus said to have an “indirect” effect on decomposition. The spiders eat animals (springtails) that eat fungus; if more fungus-eaters get eaten, then fungus grows unchecked. When there is a lot more fungal activity, there is faster decomposition.

Decomposition is usually positive for plants, in that it releases more nutrients to the soil. Some of these nutrients, such as nitrogen, are sought-after fertilizers that enhance plant productivity. But decomposition is a double-edged sword for the environment. As microbes eat dead plants, they also respire carbon dioxide and methane — powerful greenhouse gases.

Between one-third to one-half of the global pool of soil organic carbon is frozen in Arctic permafrost, currently locked away from decomposers but vulnerable to warming.

To test the effects of warming on the spider/fungus-eater/soil system, Koltz and her team installed a series of experimental enclosures in an area of arctic tundra in Northern Alaska over two summer seasons. These mini-ecosystems were 1.5 meters in diameter and separated all of the regular tundra inhabitants — including belowground animals and fungus — from their surroundings in a space where temperature and densities of spiders could be manipulated.

At the end of the study period, the scientists surveyed everything inside the enclosures. They counted springtails and mites, measured microbial biomass (fungus and bacteria), and tallied the other tiny animals that could either eat the springtails themselves or serve as alternative food sources for the wolf spiders.

What they discovered was surprising. At ambient temperatures, there were fewer springtails left in the high-spider-density plots, and decomposition of leaf litter had happened faster. This was expected since wolf spiders love to eat springtails. But in the warmed plots with high spider densities, the researchers found significantly more of the springtail prey, and less evidence of decomposition of the leaf litter in the soil.

What’s going on here? The researchers believe that under warming conditions, the wolf spiders are developing a taste for different prey. Instead of springtails, they could be eating more of the intermediate predators, like smaller spiders.

That’s good news for springtails — and maybe for the climate, too.

In a warming future, if wolf spiders eat fewer springtails, such that the springtails are able to eat more microbes, then there may be less decomposition — and less carbon released from the permafrost.

“The way that organisms interact with one another can influence important ecosystem functions like how much carbon stays fixed by plants, how quickly decomposition happens, and how nutrients are cycled within that ecosystem”, Koltz said. “Controls on nutrient cycling in the Arctic are very important for us to understand, because this region plays a disproportionately large role in the global carbon cycle.

“Spiders are not going to save us from climate change, but we found that decomposition is slower under warming when there are more wolf spiders present”, Koltz added. “This suggests that under some circumstances, they could be alleviating some of the effects of warming on carbon losses from the tundra. It’s a good thing.”

Plants in the Arctic are growing taller because of climate change, according to new research from a global scientific collaboration led by the University of Edinburgh: here.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report Monday calling for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” in order to limit human-induced global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels: here.

How bears help small mammals


This 2014 video says about itself:

Grizzly Bears Catching Salmon | Nature’s Great Events | BBC

It’s the time of year when the salmon make their annual pilgrimage upstream to spawn, but leaping past the waiting hungry bears is no easy task.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Berry-gorging bears disperse seeds through scat and feed small mammals

July 5, 2018

New research shows that mice and voles scurry to bear scats to forage for seeds, finding nutritional value in the seeds and in some cases further dispersing them.

The study is published in the journal Ecosphere by researchers at Oregon State University and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The research builds on an OSU study that determined that bears are the primary seed dispersers of berry-producing shrubs in Alaska.

In southeastern Alaska, brown and black bears are plentiful because of salmon. Bears frequently supplement their salmon-based diet with fruit as they build their fat stores for winter hibernation. As a result, their seed-filled scats are found throughout the landscape.

“Salmon can have a far greater impact on the ecosystem than we thought”, said study lead author Yasaman Shakeri, an Oregon State University graduate now with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Our study shows how small mammals can benefit indirectly from salmon through high bear densities that salmon support and the resulting seed-filled scats on the landscape. Not only are small mammals spending months feeding and fighting for the seeds in scats, they’re also scattering the seeds on the landscape, which allows some of the seeds to become future fruiting plants.”

The researchers placed motion-triggered cameras near bear scats in the upper Chilkat Valley, 30 miles north of Haines, from June to October in 2014 and 2015. They recorded visits to the scat made by small mammals and birds.

Northwestern deer mice made 4,295 total visits to the scats — an average of 8.5 a day. Northern red-backed voles visited 1,099 times at an average of 2.2 times a day. In addition to the cameras, the researchers also live-trapped and tagged small mammals to estimate their abundance and population densities.

The team collected bear scats on roads and trails within the study area from July-September in 2014 and 2015 and analyzed the nutritional characteristics found in the 12 species of fruit found in the scats, including gross energy, total dietary fiber, crude protein and crude fat. From those samples, they estimated digestible energy per seed.

The energy within the seeds in bear scats can be a significant portion of the energy budget of rodents. For example, a single bear scat contained 73,230 devil’s club seeds, which was capable of meeting the daily energy requirements of 91 deer mice. In coastal Alaska riparian areas, bears are potentially capable of indirectly subsidizing the energy needs of 45-65 percent of local deer mouse populations, Shakeri said.

In addition to consuming the seeds at the site, the mice appear to scatter-hoard the seeds in much the same way that gray squirrels scatter-hoard acorns, said Taal Levi, an ecologist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences and co-author on the study. Scatter-hoarding is creating a large number of small hoards, as opposed to a large hoard found in a single place.

“This process is called secondary seed dispersal and forgotten seeds can have much higher survival than unburied seeds”, Levi said.

The study was also co-authored by Kevin White, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife provided funding for the study.