12 Oct 2023
 | 12 Oct 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Linking biodiversity and geodiversity: Arctic-nesting birds select refuges generated by permafrost degradation

Madeleine-Zoé Corbeil-Robitaille, Éliane Duchesne, Daniel Fortier, Christophe Kinnard, and Joël Bêty

Abstract. To gain better insight into the cascading impact of warming-induced changes in the physical landscape on biodiversity, it is crucial to establish stronger links between abiotic and ecological processes governing species distribution. Abiotic processes shaping the physical characteristics of the environment could significantly influence predator movements in the landscape and ultimately affect biodiversity through interspecific interactions. In the Arctic tundra, the main terrestrial predator (Arctic fox) avoids patches of wetlands composed of ponds with islets that can act as refuges for prey. Little is known about the geomorphological processes generating islets selected by prey species. Our study aimed to identify i) the physical characteristics of islets selected by Arctic-nesting birds and ii) the geomorphological processes generating islets available in the landscape. Over two breeding seasons, we determined the occurrence of nesting birds (Glaucous gull, Cackling goose, Red-throated loon) on islets (N=396) found over a 150 km2 area on Bylot Island (Nunavut, Canada). Occupied islets were located further away from the shore (10.6 m ± 7.3 vs 7.4 m ± 6.8) and surrounded by deeper water (33.6 cm ± 10.6 vs 28.1 cm ± 11.5). As expected, all three bird species selected islets less accessible to Arctic foxes, with nesting occurrence increasing (linearly or nonlinearly) with distance to shore and/or water depth around islets. Based on high-resolution satellite image and field observations, we found that ice-wedge polygon degradation generated the majority of islets (71 %) found in the landscape. Those islets were on average farther from the shore and surrounded by deeper water than those generated by other processes. As polygon degradation is projected to accelerate in response to warming, new refuges will likely emerge in the Arctic landscape, but current refuges could also disappear. Changes in the rate of polygon degradation may thus affect Arctic tundra biodiversity by altering predator-prey interactions.

Madeleine-Zoé Corbeil-Robitaille et al.

Status: open (until 11 Dec 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2240', Anonymous Referee #1, 07 Nov 2023 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2240', Daniel Ruthrauff, 15 Nov 2023 reply
  • RC3: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2240', Anonymous Referee #3, 08 Dec 2023 reply

Madeleine-Zoé Corbeil-Robitaille et al.

Data sets

Dataset_islets_bylotisland Madeleine-Zoé Corbeil-Robitaille

Madeleine-Zoé Corbeil-Robitaille et al.


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Short summary
In the Arctic tundra, climate change is transforming landscape and may impact wildlife. We focused on three nesting bird species and the islets they select as refuges from the Arctic fox. A geomorphological process, ice-wedge polygon degradation, was found to play a key role in creating these refuges. Accelerated by climate change, this process is likely to affect predator-prey dynamics the Arctic tundra, highlighting the connections between nature's physical and ecological systems.