Chironomids Then and Now: Climate Change Effects on a Tundra Food Web in the Alaskan Arctic
Lackmann, Alec Ray
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Chironomids Then and Now: Climate Change Effects on a Tundra Food Web in the Alaskan Arctic (8.313Mb)
Although climate change is a global phenomenon, the Arctic is warming faster than any other region on earth. These climatic changes have driven rapid regional changes over the past half-century in both the physical landscape and the ecosystems therein. One such ecological interaction is between migratory shorebird survival and local insect emergence. Annually, tens of millions of migratory shorebirds travel to the Arctic to rear their young in the relative absence of predators, but in a relative abundance of food (insects). Over evolutionary time, these trophic levels have coupled: shorebird chicks tend to hatch during the period of highest terrestrial insect availability. However, climate change is currently uncoupling this food-web synchrony, creating potential for trophic mismatch. In the High Arctic near Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska, trophic mismatch between nesting shorebirds and their insect food base is already detectable. In this ecosystem, flies in the Family Chironomidae (non-biting midges) dominate the prey trophic level in the avian food web. We have found that the pre-emergence development of one particular midge, Trichotanypus alaskensis, defies conventional wisdom of the Family, as this species molts to an additional fifth larval instar prior to pupation and emergence (all other chironomids are known to have four larval instars). We discovered an Utqiaġvik midge that reproduces asexually, a species that was not documented in the 1970s. Utilizing controlled temperature rearings of Utqiaġvik midge larvae, we discovered that as temperatures rise, emerging chironomid adults are generally smaller in size. We have found that chironomid pre-emergence developmental rates follow a positive exponential relationship as temperatures increase, can vary by taxon, yet are consistent across field and lab settings for a given taxon. At Utqiaġvik in the 2010s, chironomid emergence occurs 8-12 days earlier than it did in the 1970s. These findings shape our understanding of trophic mismatch in this arctic food web.