IAB Research Project Description

Ecology of Smith's Longspurs

Smith's Longspur. Photograph by Teri Wild.

Any and all uses of these images must include photographer credit.

Arctic birds are particularly vulnerable to climate change because ecosystem and habitat changes are expected to be accelerated and dramatic. In the Arctic, expansion of shrubs and trees into areas now occupied by sedge tundra could alter the breeding habitat of 15% of the world’s bird species. Many avian distributions are projected to shift in response to habitat change.

There has also been evidence of varying impacts of phenological mismatches between birds and their insect prey. The Smith’s Longspur (Calcarius pictus) is an Arctic-breeding passerine that is identified as a species of concern by the Boreal Partners in Flight, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Breeding habitat in the eastern part of their range is in the forest-tundra transition at the northern edge of the boreal tree line in Canada. In northern Alaska they breed in this habitat on the south side of the Brooks Range and in areas of mixed moist tundra and dwarf shrub in the northern Brooks Range foothills.

These tundra transition zones are predicted to change dramatically as warming conditions favor shrub and tree growth; some researchers estimate that 40-57% of tundra habitats may be lost.

The overall goal of this project is to contribute to conservation strategies for Smith’s Longspurs by further refining our knowledge of their breeding ecology in Alaska, using the unique availability of individually marked birds and baseline data at the Arctic Refuge.

Our objectives are to

(1) document natal and breeding site fidelity using resightings of individually banded birds,

(2) estimate nest survival and analyze covariates that influence nest survival (e.g. habitat and temporal factors), and

(3) continue to collect and analyze life history information to better understand breeding parameters such as breeding phenology, adult survival and movements, nesting chronology, habitat preferences, and nest site requirements.

Project Funding

U.S. Geological Survey
1 May 2011 – 31 Dec 2015
IAB Proposal #2011-065
IAB Project #223

Media Contact

Marie Thoms
Communications/Web Manager
Institute of Arctic Biology
302A Irving I
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK 99775-7000
email: methoms@alaska.edu
phone: 907.474.7412