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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 424:285-302 (2011)  -  DOI:

Environmental control of the breeding success of rhinoceros auklets at Triangle Island, British Columbia

Gary Borstad1,*, William Crawford2, J. Mark Hipfner3, Richard Thomson2, Kim Hyatt4

1ASL Environmental Sciences Inc., Victoria, British Columbia, V8M 1Z5, Canada
2Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sidney, British Columbia, V8L 4B2, Canada
3Environment Canada, RR#1 5421 Robertson Road, Delta, British Columbia, V4K 3N2, Canada
4Pacific Biological Station, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Nanaimo, British Columbia, V8L 4B2, Canada

ABSTRACT: There are few studies of the mechanistic links between physical environmental processes and biotic responses in marine ecosystems that have strong predictive power. At Triangle Island, the largest seabird colony along Canada’s Pacific coast, annual breeding success of rhinoceros auklets Cerorhinca monocerata varies dramatically. Previous studies have correlated this variability with ocean temperature, but this relationship occasionally fails, suggesting that it is not causal. We used historical satellite data time series of sea surface temperature, chlorophyll, and winds to study the oceanography of this remote colony. We found that rhinoceros auklets bred more successfully when the spring transition in regional winds and the resulting spring phytoplankton bloom occurred early in April. These factors appear to control the annual recruitment of Pacific sandlance Ammodytes hexapterus, as measured by the percent by biomass of young-of-the-year sandlance in the nestling diet. These linkages imply bottom-up control in this system. Suggesting broader implications of our work, we also found that marine survival of economically and culturally important sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka from nearby Smith Inlet was strongly correlated with the fledgling mass of the rhinoceros auklets, sandlance in the chicks’ diets, and regional chlorophyll in April. The timing of the spring wind transition and phytoplankton bloom appear to be important for other predators in this system. We think that these relationships with wind and chlorophyll derived from satellite data are potentially valuable explanatory tools that will be widely applicable to studies of early marine survival of many marine species.

KEY WORDS: Rhinoceros auklet · Ocean chlorophyll · Ocean temperature · Wind · Satellite imagery · Sandlance · Salinity · Sockeye salmon · Triangle Island

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Cite this article as: Borstad G, Crawford W, Hipfner JM, Thomson R, Hyatt K (2011) Environmental control of the breeding success of rhinoceros auklets at Triangle Island, British Columbia. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 424:285-302.

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