MEPS 281:259-266 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps281259

Sea surface temperature constrains wedge-tailed shearwater foraging success within breeding seasons

Darren R. Peck*, Brian V. Smithers, Andrew K. Krockenberger, Bradley C. Congdon

School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, PO Box 6811, Cairns, Queensland 4870, Australia

ABSTRACT: Processes that underlie impacts of global warming on marine organisms at upper trophic levels are largely unknown. Long-term studies of seabirds indicate that inter-annual decreases in fledging success are correlated with El Niño years, when sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are above long-term averages. These studies propose that seasonal processes are most likely responsible. To date, no work has focused on the potential impacts of elevated SSTs on seabird reproduction at finer time scales, i.e. within a breeding season. We directly measured the influence of SST variability on foraging success in the wedge-tailed shearwater Puffinus pacificus within and among 3 breeding seasons at Heron Island in the southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. We found that changes in foraging success (meal size and feed frequency) and chick growth were negatively correlated with daily variations in SST both within and among seasons. Our findings suggest that forage resource availability fluctuated daily in direct association with small-scale variation in SST. This is evidence that declines in seabird breeding success, previously coupled exclusively with large-scale El Niño conditions and processes, may also involve fine-scale mechanisms. Consequently, observed El Niño scale impacts may include season-specific outcomes of day-to-day trophic interactions that operate within all breeding seasons.

KEY WORDS: Shearwater · Sea surface temperature · SST · Seabirds · Global warming · Foraging success · Temporal-scale

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