• Open Access

Seabird life histories and climatic fluctuations: a phylogenetic-comparative time series analysis of North Atlantic seabirds


  • Hanno Sandvik,

  • Kjell Einar Erikstad

H. Sandvik (hanno@evol.no), Dept of Biology, Univ. of Tromsø, NO-9037 Tromsø, Norway, and Norwegian Inst. for Nature Research, Polar Environmental Centre, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway (present address: Dept of Biology, Norwegian Univ. of Science and Technology, NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway). – K. E. Erikstad, Norwegian Inst. for Nature Research, Polar Environmental Centre, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway.


In the light of the predicted changes in climate as a consequence of global warming, it is a major concern how animal species will respond to altered meteorological and oceanographic conditions. Seabirds constitute a diverse group of marine top predators which have relatively low fecundity and high annual survival rates. In order to predict effects of climate change, it is a necessary precondition to first understand responses to naturally occurring climatic fluctuations. While the ecological effects of different large-scale climatic phenomena have received much attention in the recent past, the factors determining the responses of seabirds are still little understood. We analyze more than a hundred previously published time series of seabird offspring production and adult survival rates in the North Atlantic in order to detect climatic signals in this data base. As our analyses are phylogenetic-comparative, we are able to search for patterns across species. Using the correlation of these parameters with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) as a measure of responsiveness to climatic variability, we find that effects of climate on either parameters considered are not more common than expected by chance. The magnitudes of the responsivenesses were entirely randomly distributed throughout the seabird phylogeny, but were not strongly related to the explanatory variables considered. However, some tendencies indicate that both life-history traits and feeding ecology may influence how seabirds respond to climatic variability. An explanation of those patterns based on life-history theory is given.