Aim We examined patterns of covariation among piscivorous and planktivorous seabirds breeding at St Lazaria Island in order to evaluate their responses to interannual changes in sea surface temperature, a variable that affects marine food webs. In addition, we evaluated seabird population trends for responses to decadal-scale changes in the marine ecosystem.
Location St Lazaria Island, Sitka Sound, Alaska.
Methods Established seabird monitoring protocols for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge were followed in estimating population trends, the timing of nesting events and the reproductive success of eight species of seabirds between 1994 and 2006.
Results Population increases were noted for storm-petrels (Oceanodroma furcata and O. leucorhoa), rhinoceros auklets (Cerorhinca monocerata) and glaucous-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens). We found no population trend for pelagic cormorants (Phalacrocorax pelagicus), but it appeared that populations of common (Uria aalge) and thick-billed (U. lomvia) murres and of tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) declined. We detected no linear trends in either breeding chronology or reproductive success over the study period for any seabird. All species of piscivorous seabirds apparently responded similarly to environmental cues as there was a positive covariation among species in the timing of nesting. Piscivores tended to nest earlier, and most species had higher rates of reproductive success in years with relatively warm spring sea temperatures. In contrast, planktivorous Leach’s storm-petrels (O. leucorhoa) tended to nest earlier when spring and summer sea temperatures were relatively cool. Clearly, seabirds at St Lazaria were responding to interannual changes in sea temperatures near the breeding colony, probably as a result of effects on the food webs.
Main conclusions Every seabird species we monitored at St Lazaria exhibited significant population trends between 1994 and 2006. For most species there appeared to be a relationship between both the timing of nesting and reproductive rates and spring or summer sea surface temperatures. Responses at both decadal (populations) and interannual (timing and reproductive success) scales make seabirds useful candidates for helping to monitor change in the marine environment.