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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 274:235-250 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps274235

Ocean climate, euphausiids and auklet nesting: inter-annual trends and variation in phenology, diet and growth of a planktivorous seabird, Ptychoramphus aleuticus

Christine L. Abraham*, William J. Sydeman

Marine Ecology Division, PRBO Conservation Science, 4990 Shoreline Highway, Stinson Beach, California 94970, USA

ABSTRACT: Variability in ocean climate results in fluctuations in the timing and abundance of zooplankton. In turn, fluctuations in zooplankton as prey may have consequences for reproductive decisions and performance of planktivorous seabirds. We examined interrelationships between mean seasonal oceanographic conditions and prey availability and the timing of breeding, nestling diet, growth and productivity (as number of chicks fledged per breeding pair) of Cassin¹s auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticus in the central California Current System. Substantial inter-annual variability in seasonal ocean climate parameters as well as in auklet reproductive and diet characteristics was evident. Hatching dates and the proportion of all euphausiids in the diet were positively correlated with seasonal sea-surface temperature and negatively correlated with seasonal upwelling values. A significant negative correlation was found between the proportion of Euphausia pacifica in the diet and hatch date, while significant positive correlations were found between Thysanoessa spinifera in the diet and productivity, and between productivity and growth. Based on the California Cooperative Fisheries Investigations euphausiid data set, significant positive correlations were found between E. pacifica abundance and auklet meal mass and productivity and between T. spinifera abundance and auklet productivity. As demonstrated by the auklet diet, euphausiids responded to changes in ocean climate on multiple temporal scales. In most years, auklets responded adaptively to variation in oceanographic conditions and prey availability by modifying timing of breeding. However, in years when ocean conditions deteriorated after the initiation of breeding, prey availability was severely reduced beyond the auklet¹s adaptive response, resulting in diminished nestling growth and productivity.

KEY WORDS: Cassin¹s auklet · Growth rate · Productivity · Diet composition · Euphausia pacifica · Thysanoessa spinifera · Sea-surface temperature · Upwelling

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