Detecting population heterogeneity in effects of North Atlantic Oscillations on seabird body condition: get into the rhythm


S. Descamps, Dept of Biology, Carleton Univ., Ottawa, ON, K1A0H3, Canada. E-mail:


Climatic influences on animal populations, mediated by changes in condition-dependent survival or reproduction, have long intrigued ecologists. We analyzed links between winter North Atlantic Oscillations (NAO), a large scale climatic phenomenon affecting weather conditions over the North Atlantic and the Arctic, and average pre-laying body mass in common eiders. Body mass is a good proxy for condition-dependent reproductive output in this species. Time series links were assessed for two eider populations breeding at high latitudes, over a 10- and a 21-year time series. Winter NAO affected body mass in both populations and these effects were easier to detect when changes in the series rhythm were assessed using a novel method based on data discretization and information theory, rather than detection based on changes in amplitude, assessed using traditional linear models. Winter conditions affected body condition of eiders in both populations. Different mechanisms, however, are likely to be involved in the two populations, one being presumably affected by direct effects of climate and the other by effects through the food chain. Therefore, the same species can respond along different pathways to the same large scale climatic pattern, an important consideration when seeking to understand or manage the response of species to present and future climate change.