Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Wildland Resources

Committee Chair(s)

David N. Koons


David N. Koons


S. K. Morgan Ernest


Frank P. Howe


Anthropogenic perturbations to Arctic ecosystems have influenced large-scale climate processes, as well as finer-scale ecological relationships within and amongst populations of species. Life history theory predicts a trade-off between the temporal variation in a vital rate and its impact on population dynamics. Here, we examine the drivers of long-term variation in reproductive success in a sub-Arctic common eider (Somateria mollissima) colony, and evaluate the impacts of variation in reproductive success on eider population dynamics. In Chapter 2, we develop a suite of nest survival models to evaluate the effects of variation in predator abundance, the availability and spatial distribution of alternative prey, and breeding season climate on annual common eider nest success. Eider nest success declined across the 41 years of study, but was also highly variable across years. Annual variation in nest success was driven by a complex interaction between predators and alternative prey, as well as breeding season climate. Our results suggest that increased abundance of snow geese (alternative prey) may buffer annual fluctuations in arctic fox abundance, yet result in a long-term decline in eider nest success suggesting apparent competition via other predator species (e.g. gulls). The effect of breeding season climate was subtle compared to the influence of biotic factors and indicated that cold, wet conditions in early spring were correlated with decreased nest success, while warm, wet conditions in late spring increased eider nest success. In Chapter 3 we develop a stochastic population model to evaluate the relative effects of variation and covariation amongst multiple vital rates on population dynamics, and determine the impact of long-term changes in the abundance of alternative prey on eider population dynamics. Consistent with life history predictions, we found that proportional changes in adult survival have the largest impact on population dynamics, yet high variation in the vital rates underlying fertility contribute more to actual variation in population growth. The eventual exodus of alternative prey from the eider colony reduced the long-term growth rate, primarily through negative impacts on mean nest success.




This work made publicly available electronically on July 30, 2012.