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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 477:15-28 (2013)  -  DOI:

Effects of environmental variability on different trophic levels of the North Atlantic food web

Vitor H. Paiva1,2,*, Pedro Geraldes3, Vitor Marques4, Rula Rodríguez4, Stefan Garthe2, Jaime A. Ramos1

1IMAR/CMA Marine and Environmental Research Centre, Department of Life Sciences, Faculty of Sciences and Technology, University of Coimbra, Coimbra 3004-517, Portugal
2Research and Technology Centre (FTZ), University of Kiel, Hafentörn 1, Büsum 25761, Germany
3Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), Av. João Crisóstomo, 18 - 4° dto, Lisboa 1000-179, Portugal
4Instituto Nacional de Recursos Biológicos (IPIMAR/L-INRB), Av. Brasília, Lisboa 1449-006, Portugal

ABSTRACT: The effects of environmental change on the biodiversity, structure and functioning of marine ecosystems is still poorly understood. In fact, very few studies have focused on changes in the at-sea foraging tactics of pelagic seabirds in relation to environmental stochasticity. Aiming at filling this knowledge gap, from 2005 to 2010 we directly measured the influence of climate (as driven by the North Atlantic Oscillation phenomenon) on (1) marine productivity (i.e. chlorophyll a concentration), (2) fish prey abundances and (3) the foraging behaviour of a top marine predator, the Cory’s shearwater Calonectris diomedea borealis. There was a dramatic change in the foraging strategy of the birds during 2010, which seems to be mostly related to a climatic event that occurred during the winter of 2009 to 2010. This event had a negative impact on the productivity of the surroundings of the breeding colony and decreased the abundance of pelagic prey fish, which in turn altered the spatial, feeding and trophic ecology of Cory’s shearwater and decreased their reproductive success. However, the negative trend in the abundance of pelagic prey (estimated from acoustic surveys and commercial fisheries landings) may be of concern because it does not seem to be only related to the climatic event of 2010. Long-term monitoring of the interactions between top predators, their prey and lower strata of the food web is crucial for a comprehensive assessment of the impacts that environmental variation may have on coastal ecosystems worldwide.

KEY WORDS: Environmental variability · Foraging behaviour · Trophic ecology · Marine food web · Habitat use models · Fisheries

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Cite this article as: Paiva VH, Geraldes P, Marques V, Rodríguez R, Garthe S, Ramos JA (2013) Effects of environmental variability on different trophic levels of the North Atlantic food web. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 477:15-28.

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