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Keywords:

  • breeding success;
  • clutch size;
  • common eider;
  • condition;
  • immune defense;
  • migration;
  • NAO-index;
  • spring arrival;
  • the Baltic Sea;
  • timing ice break-up

Abstract

The phenology of spring migration depends on the severity of the preceding winter and approaching spring. This severity can be quantified using the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index; positive values indicate mild winters. Although milder winters are correlated with earlier migration in many birds in temperate regions, few studies have addressed how climate-induced variation in spring arrival relates to breeding success. In northern Europe, the NAO-index correlates with ice cover and timing of ice break-up of the Baltic Sea. Ice cover plays an important role for breeding waterfowl, since the timing of ice break-up constrains both spring arrival and onset of breeding. We studied the effects of the winter-NAO-index and timing of ice break-up on spring migration, laying date, clutch size, female body condition at hatching and fledging success of a short-distance migrant common eider (Somateria mollissima) population from SW Finland, the Baltic Sea, 1991–2004 (migration data 1979–2004). We also examined the correlation between the NAO-index and the proportion of juvenile eiders in the Danish hunting bag, which reflects the breeding success on a larger spatial scale. The body condition of breeding females and proportion of juveniles in the hunting bag showed significant positive correlations with the NAO, whereas arrival dates showed positive correlations and clutch size and fledging success showed negative correlations with the timing of ice break-up. The results suggest that climate, which also affects ice conditions, has an important effect on the fledging success of eiders. Outbreaks of duckling disease epidemics may be the primary mechanism underlying this effect. Eider females are in poorer condition after severe winters and cannot allocate as much resources to breeding, which may impair the immune defense of ducklings. Global climate warming is expected to increase the future breeding success of eiders in our study population.