Aarhus University Seal

Behavioural responses of breeding arctic sandpipers to ground-surface temperature and primary productivity

New publication by Nicolas Meyer, Loïc Bollache, Matthias Galipaud, Jérôme Moreau, et al.



Most birds incubate their eggs, which requires time and energy at the expense of other activities. Birds generally have two incubation strategies: biparental where both mates cooperate in incubating eggs, and uniparental where a single parent incubates. In harsh and unpredictable environments, incubation is challenging due to high energetic demands and variable resource availability.

We studied the relationships between the incubation behaviour of sandpipers (genus Calidris) and two environmental variables: temperature and a proxy of primary productivity (i.e. NDVI). We investigated how these relationships vary between incubation strategies and across species among strategies. We also studied how the relationship between current temperature and incubation behaviour varies with previous day's temperature.

We monitored the incubation behaviour of nine sandpiper species using thermologgers at 15 arctic sites between 2016 and 2019. We also used thermologgers to record the ground surface temperature at conspecific nest sites and extracted NDVI values from a remote sensing product.

We found no relationship between either environmental variables and biparental incubation behaviour. Conversely, as ground-surface temperature increased, uniparental species decreased total duration of recesses (TDR) and mean duration of recesses (MDR), but increased number of recesses (NR). Moreover, small species showed stronger relationships with ground-surface temperature than large species. When all uniparental species were combined, an increase in NDVI was correlated with higher mean duration, total duration and number of recesses, but relationships varied widely across species. Finally, some uniparental species showed a lag effect with a higher nest attentiveness after a warm day while more recesses occurred after a cold day than was predicted based on current temperatures.

We demonstrate the complex interplay between shorebird incubation strategies, incubation behaviour, and environmental conditions. Understanding how species respond to changes in their  environment during incubation helps predict their future reproductive success.