Seaduck engineers in the Arctic Archipelago: nesting eiders deliver marine nutrients and transform the chemistry of island soils, plants, and ponds

N. Clyde, K. E. Hargan, M. R. Forbes, S. A. Iverson, J. M. Blais, J. P. Smol, J. K. Bump, H. G. Gilchrist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Seabirds are thought to provide ecological services such as the movement of nutrients between marine and terrestrial ecosystems, which may be especially critical to productivity and diversity in nutrient-poor environments. Most Arctic ecosystems are unaffected by local human impacts and are naturally nutrient poor and especially sensitive to warming. Here, we assessed the effects of nesting common eider ducks (Somateria mollissima) on soil, vegetation, and pond sediments on island archipelagoes in Hudson Strait between Nunavut and Québec, Canada. Soil, moss, and pond sediments were significantly higher in nitrogen on islands with large numbers of nesting eiders compared to sites with no nesting birds. The highest concentrations of nitrogen in soils and moss occurred at the margins of ponds on eider islands, which correspond to the areas of highest eider use. δ15N and δ34S values in soils, moss, and sediments indicated substantial marine-derived organic matter inputs at the higher nutrient sites. We propose that by foraging on coastal marine benthic invertebrates and returning to islands to nest, eider ducks bio-transport and concentrate marine-derived nutrients to their colony islands, fertilizing Arctic island ecosystems in the process. As common eiders nest on thousands of low to mid-latitude islands throughout the circumpolar Arctic, these nutrient inputs likely dramatically affect biota and ecosystem functioning throughout the tundra biome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1041-1052
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge the Aiviq HTO in Cape Dorset, NU and Ivujivik HTA in Ivujivik, QC for their support of this project. This project relied heavily on the expertise of local guides in Ivujivik (A. Mangiuk, P. Audlaluk, S. Mark, and A. Ainalik) and Cape Dorset (C. Qiatsuq, M. Ragee, O. Animiuq, E. Suvega, A. Qaumagiaq, S. Animiuq, Z. Ejesiak, N. Joanasie, L. Quamagiaq, and L. Animiuq) and multiple field assistants during the summer field seasons (J. Klymko, S. Robinson, F. Jean-Gagnon, A. Black, D. McGeachy, C. Dey). Funding for this project came from Environment and Climate Change Canada, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada, PEW Charitable Trusts, Nunavut General Monitoring Plan, and ArcticNet Network Centres of Excellence Canada.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Crown.


  • Arctic
  • Bio-vectors
  • Islands
  • Nutrient subsidies
  • Seaduck
  • Stable isotopes

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


Dive into the research topics of 'Seaduck engineers in the Arctic Archipelago: nesting eiders deliver marine nutrients and transform the chemistry of island soils, plants, and ponds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this