The critical importance of western Arctic Alaska's Teshekpuk Lake region to tens of thousands of birds has been underlined by new research. The area is a rich breeding ground during the brief but productive arctic summers, and the findings make clearer the case for permanent protection for the area.
Pectoral sandpiper – one of the many migratory birds using Teshekpuk Lake as a 'lover's lane' [wildlifeextra.com]
The four-year study by the Wildlife Conservation Society was the first to look at the full range of bird species from around the world that descend on the Teshekpuk Lake area and showed that the region contains some of the highest nesting bird densities and nest productivity across Alaska's Arctic.
"This is the first study to investigate breeding bird densities and measure how well birds are able to produce young in this remote and important region near Teshekpuk Lake," said the study's lead author, Joe Liebezeit. "We found that the density of nesting birds was markedly higher compared to many other sites in Arctic Alaska."
"This area needs permanent protection' The Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (TLSA) in the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska (NPR-A) has long been recognised as an important site for wildlife. Tens of thousands of geese migrate there to molt in summer and a 70,000-strong Caribou herd - critical to North Slope natives for subsistence hunting – calves its young there.
The Teshekpuk study site exists within a portion of the TLSA that was temporarily withdrawn by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from oil and gas leasing consideration in July of 2010 over concerns for wildlife. WCS North America programme director Dr Jodi Hilty said: "Given the results of this study, and previous studies conducted by WCS and other scientists, we recommend that the region of ten-year development deferral be granted permanent protection."
Nest densities are unusually high and chick survival rates better During the study, Wildlife Conservation Society scientists calculated nest densities (number of nests per unit of area) at the remote Teshekpuk site. Those results were compared to six other areas (including both human impacted and remote sites) where nest densities were measured in previous studies. The results showed that Teshekpuk densities far exceeded those at the other locations.
Additionally, nests were periodically monitored every three to six days at Teshekpuk and at a site in the Prudhoe Bay region 150 miles to the east where oil extraction activities are occurring. Results showed that for some species, chick survival was higher at Teshekpuk.
WCS's conservation zoologist Steve Zack said: ‘Teshekpuk Lake is in the middle of the world's biggest Arctic wetland, and thus at the heart of an international migration of shorebirds, waterfowl, loons, and songbirds that nest in this highly productive region during the short summer. This study makes clear how valuable this region is to breeding birds.'