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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 513:211-223 (2014)  -  DOI:

Seabird diet changes in northern Hudson Bay, 1981-2013, reflect the availability of schooling prey

Anthony J. Gaston1,*, Kyle H. Elliott2

1Environment Canada—National Wildlife Research Centre, Ottawa, ON K1A 0H3, Canada
2Department of Biological Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Ongoing climate change is altering Arctic marine ecosystems with major consequences for food-webs. Seabirds, by foraging over large marine areas but returning regularly to their breeding colonies, provide a good medium for tracking such changes. We studied the prey delivered to nestling thick-billed murres Uria lomvia at a colony in northern Hudson Bay, Canada, over the period 1981-2013. During that period, ice conditions in the region altered substantially, with earlier break-up and clearance. This change was not gradual but mainly occurred in the mid-1990s. Breeding chronology also advanced, but not as fast as early summer ice clearance advanced. Ice conditions strongly affected diet, presumably reflecting the change in the timing of breeding relative to ice clearance. Of the dominant species in the diet, the proportion of Arctic cod Boreogadus saida decreased and the proportion of capelin Mallotus villosus increased over the 33 yr period, even after ice effects were taken into account, suggesting a progressive and cumulative effect of environmental change on the marine community. Those cumulative changes were manifested primarily in the diet representation of the most frequent taxa (cod and capelin), with variation in secondary diet components being driven by the availability of the dominant taxa. Diet diversity, representing an increase in the proportion of benthic fish (stichaeids, zoarcids, pholids and sculpins) and invertebrates (squid, amphipods and crustaceans), increased when ice cover was low, and hatching was late relative to ice break-up. Chick growth rates were low when the proportion of benthic fish was high. Hence, although it appears that growth rates are influenced by diet composition, it is more likely that they reflect the availability of the dominant schooling prey species, rather than any nutritional deficiency in benthic species.

KEY WORDS: Ice cover · Climate change · Forage fish · Thick-billed murre · Uria lomvia

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Cite this article as: Gaston AJ, Elliott KH (2014) Seabird diet changes in northern Hudson Bay, 1981-2013, reflect the availability of schooling prey. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 513:211-223.

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