Use of stabilized thaw slumps by Arctic birds and mammals: evidence from Herschel Island, Yukon




Arctic, wildlife, thaw slump, Herschel Island, disturbance


As evidenced by animal sign (scat, active nests, nesting materials, rodent runways) observed across five stabilized retrogressive thaw slumps and two areas of undisturbed upland tundra, Arctic birds and mammals on Herschel Island, Canada, use stabilized thaw slumps differently than undisturbed tundra. Rodent winter nests and scat were found exclusively in undisturbed tundra and at a 250-year-old stabilized thaw slump site, whereas rodent runways and Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) nests were found exclusively at 10- and 20-year-old stabilized thaw slump sites. Bird scat was found in each tundra type, but was most common in the youngest sites, and the number of observations decreased with increasing site age. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) scat was found at all sites, whereas Muskox (Ovibos moschatus) scat was not found at 20-year-old sites and was most common in undisturbed tundra. To our knowledge, these observations are the first examples of birds and mammals using stabilized thaw slump habitat of different ages, and they provide new avenues of research for Arctic wildlife biologists concerned with the adaptation of these animals to permafrost disturbance and the resulting changes in vegetation cover.