Thursday, October 27, 2011

Expanding oil fields in Arctic Alaska causes increased predation of ground nestlings

Arctic Alaska draws tens of thousands of breeding birds to its coastal plan annually during the short summer season. This article describes a conservation biologist, Joe Liebezeit’s studies on the effects of oil development and human activity on nesting birds in this area. Some species such as foxes and ravens take shelter in the new development on the oil fields, and take advantage of the free food and safety it provides. This has caused a very high rise in their numbers, and in turn is causing a decline in the population of nesting birds around these sites. This decline can also be linked to loss of habitat.

One of the sites studied was in the Prudhoe Bay oil field, and the other was about 150 miles west of this, far from any human contact. Leibezeit and his colleagues predicted that Arctic Foxes, Ravens, and any other predators aided by this new human presence at the first site on the oil field would be the top killers, while predators that did not depend on human resources would be top killers on the second site far away from the oil field. It turns out that after years of study, the Arctic Fox was the most common predator feasting on eggs from ground nests on the first site, and an Arctic ground squirrel was the most common in the latter, which aligns with their predictions.

This article concludes optimistically, by stating that along with the push for oil development there is an understanding of the oil companies “to refine their management of the subsidized predator problem.” The oil companies are already working on their excess food problem.

Angela Wood

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