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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 334:287-297 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps334287

Oceanographic and climatic factors differentially affect reproduction performance of Antarctic skuas

Steffen Hahn1,4,*, Klaus Reinhardt2, Markus S. Ritz1, Tim Janicke1, Diego Montalti3, Hans-Ulrich Peter1

1Institute of Ecology, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Dornburger Strasse 159, 07743 Jena, Germany
2Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
3Instituto Antartico Argentino, Cerrito 1248, C1010AAZ Buenos Aires, Argentina
4Department of Plant–Animal Interactions, Centre for Limnology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), PO Box 1299, 3600 BG Maarssen, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT: We studied how environmental conditions affect reproduction in sympatric skua species that differ in their reliance on marine resources: the exclusively marine foraging south polar skua Catharacta maccormicki, the terrestrially foraging brown skua C. antarctica lonnbergi and mixed species pairs with an intermediate diet. Egg size, clutch asymmetry and hatching dates varied between species and years without consistent patterns. In the south polar skuas, 12 to 38% of the variation in these parameters was explained by sea surface temperature, sea ice cover and local weather. In mixed species pairs and brown skuas, the influence of environmental factors on variation in clutch asymmetry and hatching date decreased to 10–29%, and no effect on egg size was found. Annual variation in offspring growth performance also differed between species with variable growth in chicks of south polar skuas and mixed species pairs, and almost uniform growth in brown skuas. Additionally, the dependency on oceanographic and climatic factors, especially local wind conditions, decreased from south polar skuas to brown skua chicks. Consistent in all species, offspring were more sensitive to environmental conditions during early stages; during the late chick stage (>33 d) chick growth was almost independent of environmental conditions. The net breeding success could not be predicted by any environmental factor in any skua species, suggesting it may not be a sensitive indicator of environmental conditions. Hence, the sensitivity of skuas to environmental conditions varied between species, with south polar skuas being more sensitive than brown skuas, and between breeding periods, with the egg parameters being more susceptible to oceanographic conditions. However, during offspring development, local climatic conditions became more important. We conclude that future climate change in the Maritime Antarctic will affect reproduction of skuas more strongly through changes in sea ice cover and sea surface temperature (and the resulting alterations to the marine food web) than through local weather conditions.

KEY WORDS: Maritime Antarctic · Sea surface temperature · Sea ice cover · Catharacta spp. · Breeding parameter · Chick growth · Life history

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