An Early Warning System Using Seabirds to Detect Ecosystem Change in the High and Low Arctic (SEABIRDS_NZ)

Summary of the project

Marine resources are vital to many northern communities. Climate changes that have been underway for several decades are influencing marine life in Arctic waters. These changes will affect resource use and traditional harvesting practices and will present challenges as well as opportunities. Information on ongoing change in marine ecosystems is important in planning for future adaptation. 

Biological responses to climate change can be expected to be most evident near the limits of species ranges where physiological tolerances are most challenged. Our research focuses on top seabird predators in High and Low Arctic Canadian regions linked through the Labrador Current in the North Atlantic. We will capture “downstream” (Labrador Current) influences of High Arctic changes and variability. Changes in the biology of seabirds have already been noted (altered breeding times, deterioration in nutrition and chick condition) with dietary changes involving switches from ice-associated and polar fish to Low Arctic species. 

Diving and surface-feeding seabirds (murres, fulmars, gannets, storm-petrels) will be studied when foraging over regional scales during summer and when migrating throughout the High and Low Arctic during fall, winter and spring. The project will use previous surveys of seabird diets throughout Nunavut and Newfoundland and Labrador during the 1970s and 1980s to assess changes that have occurred in High and Low Arctic marine food webs and to establish a current baseline against which future change can be assessed.

Area of study

  • North West Territories (High Arctic): Coates Island, Digges Island and Prince Leopold Island
  • Newfoundland and Labrador (Low Arctic): Cape St. Mary’s, Witless Bay, Funk Island and Gannet Islands

TimeTable for activities

2007-02-01 / 2009-12-31