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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 258:253-261 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps258253

Signals from seabirds indicate changing biology of capelin stocks

Gail K. Davoren*, William A. Montevecchi

Biopsychology Programme, Departments of Biology and Psychology, Memorial University, St. John's, Newfoundland A1B 3X9, Canada
*Email: z73gkd@

ABSTRACT: Key forage species lie at the core of complex marine food webs, providing essential linkages among trophic levels. We examined the interactions of an important forage and commercial fish, capelin Mallotus villosus, and its primary avian predator, the common murre Uria aalge, in the NW Atlantic. Murres are capelin specialists and robust samplers of capelin biology. During the 1990s, the coldest surface-water event in the past 50 to 100 yr occurred in the NW Atlantic (1991), and the eastern Canadian ground-fishery was closed (1992). Concordantly, the biology and behaviour of capelin has undergone very substantial changes. We examined parental food deliveries and production at the world¹s largest common murre colony on Funk Island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland throughout the 1990s. Murres delayed breeding and delivered smaller and lower quality capelin to their chicks. These changes, corroborated with independent fisheries data, resulted in poor condition of murre chicks, indicating significant effects of changing capelin demographics at higher trophic levels. The diets of the murre chicks indicate that the composition of the capelin population has shifted from high size diversity to mainly smaller capelin. We hypothesize that this change resulted from the elimination of the larger-sized and earlier-spawning genotype and that the NW Atlantic capelin population is exhibiting signs of reduced reproductive potential that likely reflects lower spawning biomass.

KEY WORDS: Predator-prey interaction · Bio-indicator · Ecosystem dynamics · Common murre · Uria aalge · Capelin · Mallotus villosus

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