Early June, the NIOZ Vici-Van Gils team in their new study area in Alaska. From left to right: Anne Vorenkamp (MSc student), Tim Oortwijn (PhD student), Jan van Gils (Principle Investigator), Luc de Monte (Technician), Jeroen Reneerkens (Postdoc).
The core topic of the investigation is how rapid Arctic warming disrupts the trophic interaction between shorebirds and their Arthropod food supply, to test the earlier postulated trophic mismatch hypothesis. This photo shows that we clearly had some warm days in which snow melted rapidly.
Nevertheless, in spite of quite some warm days early on in the expedition, snow melted relatively late this year as a thick layer of snow was deposited over winter. The relatively late snowmelt may have done the birds well. Late snowmelt means a late insect peak. With the birds usually being on a late breeding schedule, this means good chick growth.
Indeed, insects appeared late this year (as measured by pitfalls; photo on the left), and the chicks grew faster than in any other year since co-worker Jim Johnson started working in this population in 2010.
A female red knot on eggs at the Alaska tundra. Knots are extremely well-camouflaged, making it super hard to find their nests.
Also the eggs mimic the colors of the surrounding tundra vegetation.
Nevertheless, the team has been very successful this year in finding knot nests (11 in total were found) using an array of different techniques. One novel technique that worked well (on cold days) was the technique of thermal imaging (photo on the left). Another way to find nests was to attach a radio tag to a freshly caught bird which would then guide the researchers to the nest.
Also catching adult birds worked out well this year – a selection of some pretty birds that were given a radio-tag and colored flag for identification.
During our long hikes in search of knot nests, the team came across all sorts of wildlife, including this herd of muskoxen.
Another selfie by the ''Vici van Gils team'', now extended by the American co-workers. From left to right: Zak Pohlen, Kelsie Hunt, Dani Solorzano-Jones, Evan Buck, Jan van Gils, Tim Oortwijn, Anne Vorenkamp, and Luc de Monte.
This has been a most amazing summer, that has been successful for both the birds and their researchers. 11 nests of red knots were found, 15 broods were caught including 47 chicks! This delivered over 300 individual dropping samples (diet reconstruction) and plenty of growth curves.
These dropping samples were collected by having the chicks sit on their ‘private toilets’ inside this bag for a minute or so.
In the meantime, part of the team had been raising a red knot in captivity to study in detail the trophic interaction between shorebird chicks and insects. In total, over 400 foraging trials have been carried out!
In the meantime, part of the team had been raising a red knot in captivity to study in detail the trophic interaction between shorebird chicks and insects. In total, over 400 foraging trials were carried out! The good thing about the indoor chicks is that they took their own scientific measurements!
Right now, the team is back at NIOZ and we are working hard to analyze the many samples, to carry out interesting analyses, and finally to publish these new findings in scientific papers!