What Are They Doing?
The research team studied little auks (Alle alle), small seabirds also known as dovekies that migrate to the High Arctic to breed in large colonies in Greenland and Spitsbergen. Little auks eat zooplankton, and parents feed their chick almost entirely on copepods (Calanus species). Different zooplankton communities are associated with the different water masses in the Greenland Sea. More importantly, the energy content of individual zooplankton differs among species, with larger species generally providing more energy to predators than smaller ones. Changes in the species composition of zooplankton communities associated with changes in oceanographic conditions in the Greenland Sea therefore directly affects the quality of prey available to Little Auks. The East Greenland population of little auks forages in water that originates from the Arctic and they are able to eat large, energy-rich Calanus hyperboreus and Calanus glacialis, whereas little Auks breeding in areas influenced by warmer water on the west coast of Spitsbergen may be forced to forage on smaller, less energy-rich Calanus finmarchicus. The team compared the breeding and feeding ecology of populations of Little Auks breeding in East Greenland with populations in West Spitsbergen. They examined the feeding and breeding behavior of the birds and collected information about their overall health and physiology such as size, chick growth, food type and quality, and the quantity of stress hormones in their blood.
Where Are They?
The team worked on the steep, remote bird cliffs at Kap Hoegh on the east coast of Greenland, just north of the village of Ittoqqortoormiit, also known as Scoresbysund. This mountainous region of Greenland is the perfect habitat for little auks, who gather in large colonies on the steep cliffs to lay their eggs in rock crevices.
Ann Harding is a Research Associate at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. Ms. Harding has studied seabirds across the Northern Hemisphere, including Alaska, Iceland, the Norwegian High Arctic, and Greenland. She is specifically interested in understanding the response of marine birds to changes in prey availability. In addition to her research efforts, Ms. Harding works closely with the community of Ittoqqortoormiit, near the little auk colony in Greenland, to involve local school children and teachers in research activities.