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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 454:171-182 (2012)  -  DOI:

Seabird diet indicates changing Arctic marine communities in eastern Canada

J. F. Provencher1,*, A. J. Gaston2, P. D. O’Hara3, H. G. Gilchrist2

1Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3N5, Canada
2Science and Technology Branch, National Wildlife Research Centre, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H3, Canada
3Canadian Wildlife Service, Sidney, British Columbia V8L 4B2, Canada

ABSTRACT: Changing climatic conditions are affecting ecosystems worldwide, but polar ecosystems are experiencing the most rapid changes as the extent of summer sea ice has diminished over the last several decades. In the Canadian Arctic, thick-billed murres Uria lomvia can be used as samplers of the marine environment, and we examined changes in the diet of the birds between recent and historical studies from the 1970s and 1980s. In the low Arctic, the amount of Arctic cod, an ice-dependent species, declined in the murre diet; and capelin, a subarctic species, has now become the primary prey item. In the mid-Arctic, where summer sea ice is still present during the summer, Arctic cod persists as an important prey item, but capelin is now regularly observed, marking an apparent northward expansion of this species over the last 30 yr. In the high Arctic, summer sea ice continues to dominate the seascape in most years, and Arctic cod continues to dominate the diets of the murres. Changes in Arctic cod in the bird diet were found to be more related to sea ice conditions averaged over multiple years rather than single-year indices, indicating that long-term changes in sea ice do impact this prey species. The diversity of the prey sampled by the birds has decreased, signaling a potential change in the number of prey species available. Overall, the birds illustrate changes occurring in the marine environment in areas where little other information is available.

KEY WORDS: Seabird · Arctic · Climate change · Diet shift · Fish community · Zooplankton · Thick-billed murre · Uria lomvia · Sea ice cover

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Cite this article as: Provencher JF, Gaston AJ, O’Hara PD, Gilchrist HG (2012) Seabird diet indicates changing Arctic marine communities in eastern Canada. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 454:171-182.

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