Variation in ice conditions has strong effects on the breeding of marine birds at Prince Leopold Island, Nunavut

Authors

  • Anthony J. Gaston,

  • H. Grant Gilchrist,

  • Mark L. Mallory


A. J. Gaston (tony.gaston@ec.gc.ca), Canadian Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Research Centre, 1125 Colonel By Drive (Raven Road), Ottawa, ON, Canada K1A 0H3. – H. G. Gilchrist and M. L. Mallory, Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region, National Wildlife Research Centre, 1125 Colonel By Drive (Raven Road), Ottawa, ON, Canada K1A 0H3.

Abstract

The maximum extent of sea ice in the northern hemisphere has been contracting for several decades, with implications for all ice-associated biota. To determine how variation in ice conditions affects reproduction in marine birds, we studied the effects of ice conditions on breeding of four species of seabirds over four years at Prince Leopold Island, Nunavut, a colony close to the limits of ice conditions where breeding is feasible. In 2000 and 2003, open water was present close to the colony in June, when the birds began to lay eggs. In 2001 and 2002, the ice edge in June was >200 km to the east of the colony, forcing birds to commute long distances to open water to feed. Egg-laying by thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes and glaucous gulls was delayed and eggs and clutches were smaller in 2001 and 2002. However, northern fulmars laid at the same time in all years, although their incubation shifts were longer in 2001 and 2002 than in 2003. Open water was present close to the colony by the time of hatching in all years. Despite this, nestling survival of northern fulmars, body condition and nestling growth of thick-billed murres and body condition and nestling survival of black-legged kittiwakes were lower in 2001 and 2002 than in –2000 and 2003. All these indicators suggest that feeding conditions in the years of late ice break-up continued to be worse than usual even after open water was available at the colony. Our study suggests that current trends towards earlier ice break-up in the Arctic may be beneficial for marine birds at Prince Leopold Island, at least in the short-term.

Ancillary