Arctic, Expeditions and Travels

Expedition to the Arctic – Trip Conclusion

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We accomplished a number of important scientific goals on our expedition. We found enough nests to provide a reasonable sample for the study of the breeding ecology of the red knot. We instrumented 8 birds and conducted the first study of home range and habitat use. We began a study on feeding ecology of breeding birds, the first for the new world knots. We banded nearly all the adults of the 11 nests and collected nest-site data, body measurements and blood samples for most of the birds. We now know what the important habitats are for red knots in the Canadian Arctic.

On a larger scale, we identified the two major Arctic breeding areas (Southampton Island and King William Island) and most of the peripheral sites for a species for which most field guides only guess the distribution. We collected sufficient ground data to inform our satellite imagery which enables us to do a precise delineation of all the important breeding and foraging habitats in the Arctic. This is a great accomplishment not just for an Arctic bird but for most birds. Through Bruno we have also chronicled much of our work on film. The end of the trip does not mean the end of the work, however. We still have much to do when we return.

Our greatest achievement, however, will be in our ability to assess the growing threat of the over-harvest of horseshoe crabs on the Delaware Bay. If the red knot disappears from the Canadian Arctic, it will not be the fault of the Inuits or their harsh tundra homeland but of a unsustainable use of a resource 2,000 miles away. We know conclusively that the red knot depends on horseshoe crab eggs to make it to this hostile Arctic breeding area. When they arrive they rely on their body fat accumulated from horseshoe crab eggs to get them through the first few weeks while they lay eggs. The fat they accumulate on the Delaware Bay is crucial to their survival. In the last four years most scientists have urged the reduction or halt of horseshoe crab harvest because of the threat to migratory birds, but the harvest has continued and has increased. Our work here in Southampton Island gives us a feasible method for establishing a baseline for the viability of red knot population. Over the coming years we can return and evaluate the condition of this portion of the population. If we start to see a decline, we will be able to distinguish effects sufficiently and give conservationists an early warning signal. The red knot deserves it.