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Keywords:

  • breeding success;
  • demography;
  • interspecific analysis;
  • latitude;
  • North Atlantic Oscillation;
  • sea surface temperature

Abstract

For an understanding of the effect of climate change on animal population dynamics, it is crucial to be able to identify which climatologic parameters affect which demographic rate, and what the underlying mechanistic links are. An important reason for why the interactions between demography and climate still are poorly understood is that the effects of climate vary both geographically and taxonomically. Here, we analyse interspecifically how different climate variables affect the breeding success of North Atlantic seabird species along latitudinal and longitudinal gradients. By approaching the problem comparatively, we are able to generalize across populations and species. We find a strong interactive effect of climate and latitude on breeding success. Of the climatic variables considered, local sea surface temperatures during the breeding season tend to be more relevant than the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). However, the effect of NAO on breeding success shows a clear geographic pattern, changing in sign from positive in the south to negative in the north. If this interaction is taken account of, the model explains more variation than any model with sea surface temperature. This superiority of the NAO index is due to its ability to capture effects of more than one season in a single parameter. Mechanistically, however, several lines of evidence suggest that sea surface temperature is the biologically most relevant explanatory variable.