Emmanuelle Gouin
Master student
Department of biology, chemistry and geography

Supervised by:

François Vézina (Regular member)

Research project description

High-Arctic warming could limit reproductive performance of the Snow Bunting, a cold-specialist in decline

Introduction: Recent studies suggest that cold-adapted Arctic species have a limited ability to tolerate even moderate heat. The Snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), an Arctic-breeding species that has declined in population by 60% over the past 45 years, is a case in point, given its very low capacity to dissipate metabolic heat. This is concerning given that the Arctic is warming faster than the global average. With rising temperatures, very active buntings, as during the breeding season, would risk hyperthermia if they maintain their effort. These birds could therefore be forced to reduce their sustained level of activity, which could reduce the species' reproductive performance and selective value.Objectives: The objective of my project is therefore to determine the effect of rising environmental temperatures in the High-Arctic on the body temperature, behavior and reproductive performance of snow buntings.Study sites: I am conducting fieldwork during the summers of 2023 and 2024 at Alert (82°N), the northernmost point of the species' breeding range. Located 817 kilometers from the North Pole in the Qikiqtaaluk region of Nunavut, this site is home to the Alert Canadian Forces Station, the most northerly permanently inhabited site in the world. Located at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, Alert is characterized by a polar climate which receives very little precipitation annually.Material and methods: To meet our objective, breeding pairs will be captured and implanted with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that register chick provisioning rates and adults' body temperatures for each nest visit. Ambient temperature will be measured using meteorological microstations. Operative temperature, which is the environmental temperature as perceived by the buntings, will be measured using 3D-printed plastic models equipped with an internal temperature probe. Alongside, reproductive performance will be determined using hatching success, chick growth and fledging success.Expected results: We suggest that, as temperatures rise, birds could maintain their parental effort independently of the thermal conditions, at the expense of an increasing body temperature, without affecting reproductive performance. On the contrary, birds could also reduce their parental effort in response to increasing ambient temperature to maintain a constant body temperature, but at the expense of reproductive performance.

Research Site Coordinates

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