The purpose of this study was to present the current state of avifauna in the vicinity of Polish Polar Station, at Hornsund (SW Spitsbergen). During four seasons (2003-2006) ten bird species were recorded as breeding there. Among them colonial little auk and Arctic tern were most abundant. Six additional species were noted during the breeding season but none of them bred there and their visits in the study plots were a consequence of their nesting nearby study area. Remaining 11 species were recorded during migration. The most pronounced changes over the last 35 years has been a considerable increase in number of barnacle geese exploiting the tundra as their foraging and resting area.
Solar radiation reflectance was analysed to characterize Arctic ornithogenic tundra developing in the vicinity of large breeding colony of Brunnich‘s guillemots Uria lomvia and kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla at the foot of Gnĺlberget cliff (Hornsund, SW Spitsbergen). Radiometric method was found to be a useful tool for studying structure and functioning of plant formations. We measured reflectance of four wavelengths: 554 nm (YG), 655 nm (RED), 870 nm (NIR) and 1650 nm (SWIR) at 10 plots situated along the transect running from the colony to the sea. Moreover, data of plant community character, species quantitative composition as well as total biomass were collected to relate these parameters with the spectral values. The results showed that radiometric data characterized vegetation well enough to recognize the same plant communities on the basis of spectral reflectance as distinguished with traditional phytosociological methods.
Ornithogenic tundra developing near large seabird colonies with its dense vegetation creates sites for foraging, hiding and breeding of herbivores. Grazing, trampling and faeces deposition are considered as the most important ways that vertebrate herbivores influence the plants. Excrement deposition level informs us on the intensity of grazing i.e. foraging ground attractiveness. We have compared vertebrate herbivores’ faeces deposition (biomass) in the vicinity of big colonies of piscivorous (kittiwake Rissa tridactyla and Brünnich’s guillemot Uria lomvia) and planktivorous (little auk Alle alle) seabirds and the control area was in Hornsund, SW Spitsbergen. Much higher level of faeces deposition was recorded nearby seabird colonies as compared to the control area. These finding points out that vertebrate herbivores concentrate and feed more intensively on rich ornithogenic pastures. Number of herbivores and their faeces deposition level recorded nearby planktivorous seabird colony were greater as compared to those found nearby the colony of piscivores. The highest number of geese (Branta bernicla and Anser brachyrhynchus) and of their faeces biomass were found near the colony of planktivorous little auk, where distinct gradient in faeces deposition level along the colony-seashore axis was recorded. Reindeers Rangifer tarandus were observed in considerable numbers near the little auk colony, and were not recorded at all near cliff-nesting sites of kittiwakes and guillemots. Total deposition of excrements produced by geese was generally higher if compared to reindeers.
The food and foraging strategy of fifteen species of seabirds and sea mammals from two high Arctic fjords were analysed. One of the fjords, Kongsfjord, is strongly influenced by warm waters from the Atlantic , while Hornsund is of a more Arctic character. Prey species in the Atlantic waters were more diverse (82 species and 16 functional groups) compared to those of Arctic waters (67 prey species and 14 functional groups). The consumption of top predators from Hornsund in the peak season of July was estimated at 2.86*106 MJ, while that in Kongsfjord was 1.35*106 MJ. For the analysed function of the ecosystem (the transfer of energy to the top trophic levels) the specific character of prey species is of key importance and not the diversity, abundance or biomass per se. Lower species diversity and biomass in Arctic waters is compensated for by the occurrence of larger individuals of these species, which permits top predators to prey directly on lower trophic levels.