Energetic consequences of contrasting winter migratory strategies in a sympatric Arctic seabird duet


J. Fort, Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, UMR 5175 du CNRS, 1919 route de Mende, FR-34293 Montpellier cedex 5, France. E-mail: fort.jerome@gmail.com


At the onset of winter, warm-blooded animals inhabiting seasonal environments may remain resident and face poorer climatic conditions, or migrate towards more favourable habitats. While the origins and evolution of migratory choices have been extensively studied, their consequences on avian energy balance and winter survival are poorly understood, especially in species difficult to observe such as seabirds. Using miniaturized geolocators, time-depth recorders and a mechanistic model, we investigated the migratory strategies, the activity levels and the energy expenditure of the closely-related, sympatrically breeding Brünnich's guillemots Uria lomvia and common guillemots Uria aalge from Bjørnøya, Svalbard. The two guillemot species from this region present contrasting migratory strategies and wintering quarters: Brünnich's guillemots migrate across the North Atlantic to overwinter off southeast Greenland and Faroe Islands, while common guillemots remain resident in the Barents, the Norwegian and the White Seas. Results show that both species display a marked behavioural plasticity to respond to environmental constraint, notably modulating their foraging effort and diving behaviour. Nevertheless, we provide evidence that the migratory strategy adopted by guillemots can have important consequences for their energy balance. Overall energy expenditure estimated for the non-breeding season is relatively similar between both species, suggesting that both southward migration and high-arctic winter residency are energetically equivalent and suitable strategies. However, we also demonstrate that the migratory strategy adopted by Brünnich's guillemots allows them to have reduced daily energy expenditures during the challenging winter period. We therefore speculate that ‘resident’ common guillemots are more vulnerable than ‘migrating’ Brünnich's guillemots to harsh winter environmental conditions.