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Decisions Informed by the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative

Yellow-billed Loon - photo by Ryan Askren, USGSU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finds the Yellow-billed Loon is not warranted for listing as threatened under provisions of the Endangered Species Act

On October 1, 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its “12-Month Finding on a Petition to List the Yellow-billed Loon as an Endangered or a Threatened Species” (Federal Register Vol. 79, No. 190, p. 59195). USFWS finds the Yellow-billed Loon is not warranted for listing as threatened under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. This decision relied in part upon scientific information collected by USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative on the North Slope of Alaska, particularly in relation to two of five “Stressors Affecting Yellow-billled Loons” as identified in the Finding.

Stressor: “Research, Disease, Predation”

Uher-Koch, B. D., J. A. Schmutz, and K. G. Wright. 2015. Nest visits and capture events affect breeding success of Yellow-billed and Pacific Loons. Condor 117: 121-129. [Details] [Full Publication]

The impacts of investigator disturbance associated with captures and nest visits on nest survival of Yellow-billed and Pacific loons in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). Investigators knew that field activities likely impacted nesting loons in some way, but there had never been a dedicated effort to study possible impacts. Results of the study suggest that any source of disturbance that displaces incubating adult loons could potentially reduce nest survival and thus productivity of nesting loons. Nest survival during the day following capture of adult loons was substantially lower than when captures did not occur. Nest visits without captures also negatively impacted nest survival, but the magnitude of the effect was much lower. The study provides suggestions to reduce potential impacts of investigator disturbance to nesting loons.

Stressor: “Pollution and Degradation of Marine Habitat”

Evers, D. C., J. A. Schmutz, N. Basu, C. R. DeSorbo, J. S. Fair, C. E. Gray, J. Paruk, M. Perkins, K. Regan, B. D. Uher-Koch, and K. G. Wright. 2014. Historic and contemporary mercury exposure and potential risk to Yellow-billed Loons breeding in Alaska and Canada. Waterbirds 37(sp1):147-159. doi:10.1675/063.037.sp117 [Details] [Full Publication]

Mercury exposure in the Arctic is increasing in fish-eating birds, including loons. Thawing of permafrost and melting of Arctic sea ice has increased natural levels of mercury in the environment. Increases from anthropogenic sources are also likely. To determine risks posed by mercury to loons, the USGS examined contemporary and historical samples from Yellow-billed Loons. Although blood mercury concentrations from most Yellow-billed Loons breeding in Alaska were within natural background levels, individuals that wintered farther west in Asia exhibited elevated concentrations of mercury in feathers. Analysis of historical and more contemporary samples indicates a two-fold increase in mercury levels in Yellow-billed Loons, suggesting that mercury levels in Yellow-billed Loons are elevated.

Read more about loon research within the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative here: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2014/3093/.

 

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