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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 613:183-195 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12886

Relationships between isotopic ratios, body condition and breeding success in a High Arctic seabird community

Johanna E. H. Hovinen1,*, Arnaud Tarroux1,2,*, Francisco Ramírez3, Manuela Forero4, Sébastien Descamps1,*,**

1Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
2Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Fram Centre, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
3Departament de Biologia Evolutiva, Ecologia i Ciències Ambientals, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona 08028, Catalonia, Spain
4Estación Biológica de Doñana CSIC, Seville 41092, Spain
*These authors contributed equally to this work**Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Predators such as seabirds are often used as bio-indicators of the marine environment. This is based on the assumption that changes in seabird populations are driven by changes in their prey. We tested this assumption in a High Arctic seabird community by assessing the relationships between the diet, body condition, and breeding performance of 4 ecologically different species: the little auk Alle alle, black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, Brünnich’s guillemot Uria lomvia, and glaucous gull Larus hyperboreus, breeding in Svalbard, Norway. Interannual changes in seabird diet (2009-2015) were assessed by estimating their carbon and nitrogen isotopic ratios (δ15N and δ13C) during the breeding and non-breeding seasons (i.e. using blood and feather tissues). We found interannual variation in the isotopic ratios during both seasons in all 4 species. These variations differed among species, thus suggesting dietary changes, instead of changes in isotopic baselines, as the most plausible mechanism underlying such patterns. We also found that seabirds had a lower average hatching success when the average δ15N during the previous non-breeding season was higher. Our results suggest that changes in the average prey composition during the non-breeding season may partially explain changes in breeding performance of Svalbard seabirds.


KEY WORDS: Diet · Marine birds · Svalbard · Carry-over effects · Reproductive output · Stable isotopes · Trophic level · Nitrogen · Carbon


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Cite this article as: Hovinen JEH, Tarroux A, Ramírez F, Forero M, Descamps S (2019) Relationships between isotopic ratios, body condition and breeding success in a High Arctic seabird community. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 613:183-195. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12886

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