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Keywords:

  • environmental change;
  • laying date;
  • long-term studies;
  • marine birds;
  • NAO;
  • trophic mismatch

There is compelling evidence that the breeding phenology of many species has changed substantially in recent decades. However, taxonomic and spatial variation in the direction and rate of change is still not well understood. We explored these issues by analysing a dataset containing information on first egg dates of 10 species of seabird at two major breeding colonies (86 km apart) in the western North Sea over a period of 35 years. Within a species, timing of breeding was positively correlated between the two colonies, suggesting that factors affecting the phenology of these species operated at a regional rather than a colony scale. Comparison of time trends among the species revealed contrasting patterns, with some showing no systematic change, others becoming earlier and others later. The clearest species groupings appeared to be among the terns with arrival and/or first egg dates becoming earlier in Arctic Terns Sterna paradisaea, Common Terns Sterna hirundo and Sandwich Terns Sterna sandvicensis, and among the auks (Common Guillemot Uria aalge, Razorbill Alca torda and Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica) and Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla where the trend was in the opposite direction towards later breeding. This general trend towards later breeding in the latter group of species contrasts with correlational evidence from many other organisms indicating that breeding phenology is advancing in response to climate change.