The little auk population at the North Water Polynya. How palaeohistory, archaeology and anthropology adds new dimensions to the ecology of a high arctic seabird

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The little auk is the most numerous seabird in the north Atlantic and it has its most important breeding area on the eastern shores of the high arctic North Water Polynya in Northwest Greenland. Here an estimated population of 30 mill. pairs breeds in huge colonies. The little auk is a high arctic specialist feeding its chicks with large lipid-rich high arctic copepods. With warming of the sea the copepod species assemblage is expected to change to smaller less fatty copepod species with energetic and potentially population consequences for little auks. This presentation takes a broad interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of little auk ecology in times of change. Recent and ongoing little auk studies at the North Water Polynya have shown the high densities of little auks (about 2 pairs/m2) breeding under the stones in the vast scree slopes, the highly specialized chick diet (80 % Calanus hyperboreus), the foraging ranges (75 km, GPS tracking) the local foraging behaviour (TDR), and yearly migration pattern (gls) where little auks disperse over the north-eastern Atlantic during winter. An interdisciplinary approach has added new dimensions to population history and human harvest. Lakes with runoff from the huge colonies are hypertrophic and clear signatures can be found in cores from the lake sediment telling the colony history since the last glaciation. A history where large climatic variations but also changes caused by the historic whaling, which nearly removed the plankton-feeding Bowhead whale population, took place. Anthropological research reveals how, though small in size, little auk is a significant resource for the Inuit with important cultural values attached and adding resilience to human populations in times where the dominant marine mammal prey is inaccessible due to seasonal or yearly variations in ice conditions. Archaeological remnants show that little auk has been a resource for successive eskimo cultures inhabiting the area.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Event2nd World Seabird Conference: Seabirds: Global Ocean Sentinels - Cape Town, South Africa
Duration: 26 Oct 201530 Oct 2015

Conference

Conference2nd World Seabird Conference
CountrySouth Africa
CityCape Town
Period26/10/201530/10/2015

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