Letter | Published:

Arctic greening and bird nest predation risk across tundra ecotones

Abstract

Alarming global-scale declines of bird numbers are occurring under the changing climate1, and species belonging to alpine and Arctic tundra are particularly affected2,3. Increased nest predation appears to be involved4, but the mechanisms linking predation to climate change remain to be shown. Here we test the prediction from food web theory that increased primary productivity (greening of tundra) in a warming Arctic leads to a higher risk of nest predation in tundra ecosystems. By exploiting landscape-scale spatial heterogeneity in areas of primary productivity across alpine tundra ecotones and supplied with experimental nests in sub-Arctic Scandinavia, we found that predation risk indeed increased with primary productivity. The productivity-predation risk relation was independent of the simultaneous effects of rodent population dynamics and vegetation cover at nest sites. Predation risk also increased steeply with altitude, implying that species at the high-altitude end of the alpine tundra ecotones are particularly vulnerable. Our study contributes to an improved understanding of how climate change may affect Arctic and alpine ecosystems and threaten endemic biodiversity through a trophic cascade.

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The R code used to analyze the data is available from the corresponding author upon request.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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Acknowledgements

Funding was provided by the projects EcoFinn, SUSTAIN and Climate-Ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra (COAT). We thank E.H. Borge, S.-L. Nilssen, A.A. Olsen, Christian Hagstrøm and Mary-Ann J. Wara for assistance in the field. The very thorough and constructive comments of three anonymous reviewers helped us prepare the final version of the manuscript.

Author information

R.A.I. and J.A.H. conceived the study. J.A.H. and J.U.J. analyzed the data. A.V.T., M.J.G. and M.A.S. conducted the experiment. R.A.I. wrote the manuscript with contribution from all authors.

Correspondence to Rolf A. Ims.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Katherine Selwood, Quentin Read and other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Tables 1–3, and Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2.

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Fig. 1: Study design.
Fig. 2: Estimated nest predation risk per 14-d exposure periods.