How ecological neighbourhoods influence the structure of the scavenger guild in low arctic tundra


Siw T. Killengreen, Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway.


Aim  How the ecological neighbourhoods of coast and forest affect arctic tundra ecosystems is a pressing question as the circumpolar tundra belt is shrinking under global warming. Mobile facultative scavengers are likely to negatively impact tundra biodiversity as dominant competitors or predators, if they spill over into tundra. Here, we provide the first quantitative assessments of the structure of a scavenger guild in low arctic tundra with emphasis on how it changes along spatial gradients from neighbouring ecosystems (i.e. forest and coast) and with altitude (i.e. productivity gradients). We also assess the likelihood of interactions between guild members that may negatively impact vulnerable tundra species.

Location  North-eastern part of Norway.

Methods  Extensive records of scavenger prevalence were obtained by deploying automatic digital cameras at experimental carcasses in tundra regions covering several thousand square kilometres and three winters in northern Norway.

Main conclusions  We found short-range neighbourhood effects of forest and coast within the tundra scavenger guild. Species richness declined steeply with decreasing distance from the neighbouring ecosystems, in particular subarctic forest, and with increasing altitude. Bird species with strongholds in forest (golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos and hooded crow Corvus cornix) or along the coast (white-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla) were mostly responsible for short-range neighbourhood effects on guild structure. However, the two most abundant guild members, the common raven Corvus corax and the red fox Vulpes vulpes, exhibited no spatial patterns within the range of neighbourhoods and altitudes examined. There was a clear diurnal segregation in the use of carcasses between birds and mammals reducing the likelihood of direct interactions between these two taxa. Presence of red fox appeared to exclude the arctic fox Vulpes lagopus, the only endemic tundra species within the guild, from carcasses.