MEPS 454:273-284 (2012)  -  doi:10.3354/meps09558

Climate affects seabird population dynamics both via reproduction and adult survival

Hanno Sandvik1,*, Kjell Einar Erikstad2, Bernt-Erik Sæther1

1Centre for Conservation Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 7049 Trondheim, Norway
2Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), FRAM, High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
*Email:

ABSTRACT: Climate variability can affect population dynamics via adult survival or via offspring production and recruitment. The relative importance of both processes is still an unresolved matter, especially in long-lived species, where the time lags between the climate signal and the population response differ greatly depending on the process involved. We address the issue using 378 time series from 29 seabird species from 187 breeding colonies throughout the North Atlantic. The effect of climate on population growth rate is estimated as the slope of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index at different time lags when used as a covariate in population models. Using non-linear mixed effects models, we can demonstrate that climate affects the population dynamics of seabirds, both through adult survival and through the recruitment of offspring produced. The latter effect is stronger, and the long time lags involved make it likely that its magnitude is still underestimated. Because different processes are involved, the sign of the relationship with the NAO differs between time lags. The relationship between the NAO and the population growth rate is also highly variable, both within and across species. In a second analytical step, we address the factors that may cause this interspecific and inter-colony variation, considering the ecological, demographic and geographical characteristics of the populations. Among comparatively ‘fast-lived’ seabirds, i.e. species with large clutches, the relationship with the NAO reverses its sign depending on latitude, while no such trend is apparent among ‘slow’ species.


KEY WORDS: Climatic responsiveness · Population growth rate · Recruitment · Age at maturity · North Atlantic Oscillation · Time lag


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Cite this article as: Sandvik H, Erikstad KE, Sæther BE (2012) Climate affects seabird population dynamics both via reproduction and adult survival. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 454:273-284

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