An Arctic fox charging a greater white-fronted goose nest defended by the adults, in the Prudhoe Bay oilfields. Photo by: WCS.
A study in the Alaskan Arctic, employing camera traps, has shown that oil drilling impacts migrating birds in an unexpected way. The study found that populations of opportunistic predators, which prey on bird eggs or fledglings, may increase in oil drilling areas, putting extra pressure on nesting birds.
“The presence of people and structures enable these [predators] to live in areas that otherwise would not be preferred or suitable habitat, or to do so in greater numbers than would normally be the case. As a result, they have more access to the nests of migratory birds and can exploit a vulnerable food source,” explains Joe Liebezeit, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) conducting the study.
Predators like fox, ravens, and gulls take advantage of industry infrastructure for nests and dens, moving into areas that may otherwise be inhospitable. In addition, garbage provides sustenance for larger populations of the opportunists.
At an undeveloped site near the Ikpikpuk River, the most common nest predators are arctic ground squirrels like this one caught by the camera. Photo by: WCS.
A 2009 paper in Ecological Application produced from the ongoing study found that the rise in predators near oil infrastructure especially hurt Lapland longspurs with likely impacts also on phalaropes. However, research continues to document impacts over numerous nesting seasons.
“This is the first study specifically designed to evaluate the so-called oil ‘footprint’ effect in the Arctic on nesting birds,” says Liebezeit. “The study was also unique in that it was a collaborative effort among conservation groups, industry, and federal scientists.”
The research has included a camera trap component, documenting predators preying on nests an oil area (Prudhoe Bay oil field) and an undeveloped remote region. Camera traps are automated cameras that take photos whenever an animal triggers an infrared sensor. They are increasingly used for research and conservation work around the world.
“Pictures are worth a thousand words and these photos speak volumes regarding the changing conditions that threaten migratory birds coming to the Arctic to breed,” said WCS North America Program Director Jodi Hilty. “The photos are also a reminder of the value of undeveloped areas in the Arctic to birds from all over the world.”
A common raven in the Prudhoe bay oil field caught by the camera trap removing an egg from a Lapland longspur nest. Photo by: WCS.
A red fox eating a Lapland longspur nestling. Photo by: WCS.
Grizzly bear sniffing around close to camera. Photo by: WCS.
Oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. Photo credit: Steve Zack/WCS.
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