Comparative reproductive energetics and selenium ecotoxicology in three boreal-breeding waterfowl species
DeVink, Jean-Michel Albert
Environmental conditions on wintering or spring-staging areas may influence subsequent reproductive performance in migratory birds. These cross-seasonal effects may result from habitat loss and degradation (e.g., via contamination) which in turn reduce reproductive success, particularly in waterfowl that use stored nutrients for reproduction. North American lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) and white-winger scoter (Melanitta fusca) numbers have declined over the past 20 years, particularly in the boreal forest, and remain well below conservation goals, whereas ring-necked duck (A. collaris) numbers have increased. Environmental changes on scaup and scoter wintering and staging areas have raised concern about possible cross-seasonal effects on birds arriving on breeding grounds. The spring condition hypothesis (SCH) purports that many female scaup fail to acquire sufficient nutrients in late winter and spring, causing a decrease in breeding propensity and productivity. The contaminant hypothesis proposes that increased exposure to contaminants (particularly selenium [Se]) on wintering and staging areas has decreased scaup productivity. Accordingly, I compared body condition and studied Se concentrations in scaup, scoters and ringnecks to test the condition and contaminant hypotheses. Scaup had similar body condition to ringnecks, and had similar body mass compared to scaup collected near Yellowknife, NT, in 1968-70. There was no relationship between scaup and ringneck nutrient levels and claw tip carbon, nitrogen or hydrogen isotope values, suggesting that arrival body condition likely was not related to location or diet several months prior. Instead, scaup and ringnecks nutrient levels may be more affected by feeding or habitat conditions on or near the breeding grounds. Scaup had slightly higher liver Se concentrations than ringnecks, but levels in both species were below recognized harmful threshold concentrations; I found no relationship between Se and breeding propensity, or between Se and somatic lipid or protein stores. Scoters had much higher Se concentrations, yet contrary to predictions, there were positive relationships between Se and both lipid stores and breeding status. Follicle [Se] in scaup was below threshold concentrations; despite high liver Se in scoters, egg and follicle levels also were well below threshold concentrations. Using both body composition analysis and stable-isotope analysis I determined that scoters derive egg protein from their breeding ground diet, which likely prevents Se deposition from somatic protein to eggs, and egg lipids are apparently derived from somatic tissues. In all three species, liver Se concentrations were significantly correlated with claw tip ä15N. As the claw tip likely represents assimilated diet from 2-5 months prior to sampling, this correlation suggests that Se in these boreal breeding species is carried over from wintering and staging areas. Overall, results did not support either the spring condition or contaminant hypotheses. Scaup and scoters are late-nesting species, with highest pair densities occurring at the northern extent of their range. Maximum ring-neck pair densities occur at more southern latitudes. Ring-necks also nest earlier and appear to be more flexible in timing of nest initiation. Therefore, it is possible that due to climate change, early spring conditions alter the optimal timing of nest initiation to the detriment of late-nesting species such as scaup and scoters, and favour earlier nesters like ringnecks. Further research into this mismatch hypothesis is warranted.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorClark, Robert G.
CommitteeWobeser, Gary A.; Wayland, Mark; Slattery, Stuart M.; Esler, Dan; Chivers, Douglas P.; Alisauskas, Ray T.
Copyright DateSeptember 2007