The diet of high-arctic seabirds in coastal and ice-covered, pelagic areas near the Svalbard archipelago



Food samples from six high-arctic seabird species were collected during spring and summer seasons between 1982 and 1990 in the Svalbard region. The material came from coastal localities on the island of Spitsbergen and the marginal ice zone in eastern Svalbard waters. Polar cod Boreogadus saida was the most frequently occurring prey in the ice-covered areas. Analysis of otoliths showed that most polar cod were one-or two-year olds. These year classes are known to associate with sea ice. Other ice-associated (sympagic) organisms, such as gammarid amphipods, were not found to be of high importance as prey for seabirds in the study area. However, the sea ice occurring in the area was mainly one year old. Such ice contains a less developed sympagic fauna than multi-year ice. The pelagic amphipod Parathemisto libellula, which is not sympagic but occurs in the water column, was also found to be an important prey in the marginal ice zone, especially for the Briinnich's guillemot Uria lomuia. The smallest of the seabird species studied, the little auk Alle alle, differed from the other five species in its diet, preying mainly upon smaller items such as copepods and young stages of amphipods, euphausiids and decapods. The diet of the various seabird species was in general more diverse in the coastal areas than in the marginal ice zone.