MEPS 352:289-297 (2007)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps07080

Hot oceanography: planktivorous seabirds reveal ecosystem responses to warming of the Bering Sea

Alan M. Springer1,*, G. Vernon Byrd2, Sara J. Iverson1,3

1Institute of Marine Science, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-7220, USA
2Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 95 Sterling Highway, Suite 1, Homer, Alaska 99603, USA
3Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada

ABSTRACT: The Bering Sea has experienced dramatic warming in this century that has altered elements of the ecosystem, including the structure and productivity of the zooplankton community on the continental shelf, and the extent to which waters and associated plankton of oceanic origin have intruded onto the shelf. We documented temporal and spatial scales of these changes by monitoring diets of least auklets Aethia pusilla on the Pribilof Islands—least auklets are planktivores that specialize on the large calanoid copepods Neocalanus spp. from the basin and Calanus marshallae from the shelf. Diets were estimated in the summers of 1996 to 2006 by enumerating prey in regurgitated meals brought to chicks by adults, and by fatty acid analyses of live biopsy samples of adipose tissue from adult birds in 2003 and 2004, which provided additional insight. In the unusually warm 2000s, Neocalanus spp. apparently were excluded from regions of the outer shelf, where they typically occur in cooler years, and, concurrently, C. marshallae was depressed over a large region of the shelf because of chronic failures of spring cohorts to survive. Both changes were associated with anomalously high water temperatures over the middle shelf. The information provided by least auklets greatly improves our understanding of the consequences of environmental change and supplies clues about how communities and ecosystem processes respond to physical forcing. Continued warming of the magnitude seen in recent years could become a cause for concern for auklets and other planktivores in the eastern Bering Sea if it alters prey availability in ways detrimental to their populations.


KEY WORDS: Bering Sea · Climate change · Seabird · Auklet · Diet · Copepod · Oceanography


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Cite this article as: Springer AM, Byrd GV, Iverson SJ (2007) Hot oceanography: planktivorous seabirds reveal ecosystem responses to warming of the Bering Sea. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 352:289-297. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps07080

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