Late-season snowfall is associated with decreased offspring survival in two migratory arctic-breeding songbird species

H. E. Chmura, J. S. Krause, J. H. Pérez, Ashley Asmus, S. K. Sweet, K. E. Hunt, S. L. Meddle, R. McElreath, N. T. Boelman, L. Gough, J. C. Wingfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


While the effect of weather on reproduction has been studied for many years in avian taxa, the rapid pace of climate change in arctic regions has added urgency to this question by changing the weather conditions species experience during breeding. Given this, it is important to understand how factors such as temperature, rain, snowfall, and wind affect reproduction both directly and indirectly (e.g. through their effects on food availability). In this study, we ask how weather factors and food availability influence daily survival rates of clutches in two arctic-breeding migratory songbirds: the Lapland longspur Calcarius lapponicus, a circumpolar breeder, and Gambel's white-crowned sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii, which breeds in shrubby habitats across tundra, boreal and continental climates. To do this, we monitored clutch survival in these two species from egg-lay through fledge at field sites located near Toolik Field Station (North Slope, Alaska) across 5 yr (2012–2016). Our results indicate that snowfall and cold temperatures decreased offspring survival rates in both species; although Lapland longspurs were more susceptible to snowfall. Food availability, quantified by pitfall sampling and sweep-net sampling methods, had minimal effects on offspring survival. Some climate models predict increased precipitation for the Arctic with global warming, and in the Toolik region, total snow accumulation may be increasing. Placed in this context, our results suggest that changes in snow storms with climate change could have substantial consequences for reproduction in migratory songbirds breeding in the North American Arctic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01712
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements – We thank Leslie Baker, Heather Bass, Seth Beaudrault, Shae Bowman, Rachael Carmickle, Jeffrey Cheah, Kathryn Daly, Taryn Flink, Adam Formica, Jessica Gersony, Lacey Harris-Coble, Gina Lupo, Michaela McGuigan, Caroline Newell, Lisa Quach, Marilyn Ramenofsky, Jake Schas, Molly Timm, Jeb Timm, and Marley Tran for assistance with data collection in the field. Funding – Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar Programs: ARC 0908444 (to LG), ARC 0908602 (to NTB), and ARC 0909133 (to JCW). SLM acknowledges Roslin Inst. strategic grant funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/ P013759/1, BB/J004316/1 and BB/J004332/1). JP and HC received support from NSF Graduate Research Fellowship #1148897. HC acknowledges support from the ARCs Foundation. Meteorological datasets from the Toolik Field Station Environmental Data Center were supported by NSF grants #55541 and #1048361. Additional snow camera data from the Deegan and Urban Laboratories were funded by NSF Office of Polar Programs grants #0902153 and #1417664. Permits – Use of wild birds was covered by IACUC protocol #17812 from Univ. of California, Davis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors


  • Arctic
  • climate change
  • reproduction


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