One of the big challenges in managing wildlife populations is that we often do not know what historic or “baseline” numbers of the species might have been. We can estimate how many were around when we started counting, and we can rely on local ecological knowledge, but we often lack quantitative measures. This can make it difficult to identify drivers of population change, and to develop effective conservation policies.
In a landmark study in the Canadian Arctic, a collaborative research team used paleolimnological techniques to analyze chemical information - proxy data of bird abundance - preserved in sediment in ponds on eider duck nesting islands. Most of the islands studied were around southern Baffin Island, along with a control location at Dr. Mark Mallory’s (Acadia Biology, Canada Research Chair) field site in the high Arctic.
From these ponds the team was able to measure bird abundance dating back several hundred years. With this new data, they were able to show that in the southern part of the range, eider duck numbers declined markedly during the early to mid- 20th century, likely due to a rapidly growing Greenland population, combined with relocation of Inuit to larger Arctic communities and associated increases in the availability of firearms and motors.
To read the full article, published April 1st, 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, click the link: https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/03/26/1814057116