Climate and demography of the planktivorous Cassin's auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticus off northern California: implications for population change


Derek Lee, PRBO Conservation Science, Marine and Quantitative Ecology Divisions, 3820 Cypress Drive, No. 11, Petaluma, CA 94954, USA. E-mail:


  • 1We performed demographic analyses on Cassin's auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticus, a zooplanktivorous seabird inhabiting the variable California Current System, to understand how temporal environmental variability influences population dynamics.
  • 2We used capture–recapture data from 1986 to 2002 to rank models of interannual variation in survival, breeding propensity, breeding success, and recruitment.
  • 3All demographic parameters exhibited temporal variability. Interannual variation in survival was best modelled as a nonlinear function of the winter Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). Breeding propensity was best modelled as a threshold function of local sea surface temperature. Breeding success and recruitment were best modelled with year-dependent annual variation.
  • 4Changes in the SOI force El Niño/La Niña events, which in turn alter prey availability to seabirds in this system. Demographic responses varied during El Niños/La Niñas. Survival diminished substantially during the 1997–98 El Niño event, while breeding propensity was affected during both the 1992 and 1998 El Niños. Breeding success was reduced during the 1992, 1993, and 1998 El Niños, but was unusually high in 2002. Recruitment was higher at the beginning and end of this time-series.
  • 5While demographic responses varied interannually, parameter values covaried in a positive fashion, a situation conducive to rapid population change. During the 11 years study period, the Farallon auklet breeding population declined at 6·05 ± 0·80% (SE) per year, a cumulative decline of 49·7%. This study demonstrates how climate variability has influenced key demographic processes for this diminished marine bird population.