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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 627:171-178 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13094

Pursuit-diving seabird endures regime shift involving a three-decade decline in forage fish mass and abundance

William A. Montevecchi1,*, Kara Gerrow1, Alejandro D. Buren2, Gail K. Davoren3, Keith P. Lewis2, Marina W. Montevecchi1, Paul M. Regular2

1Psychology and Biology Departments, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL A1C 5S7, Canada
2Fisheries and Oceans Canada, St. John’s, NL A1A 5S7, Canada
3Department of Biological Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Forage species availability is a key determinant of seabird success, survival, and population change. In the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, capelin Mallotus villosus, a keystone forage species, experienced a stock collapse in the early 1990s that was a pivotal component of a regional regime shift. Since then, capelin have exhibited delayed protracted spawning, younger spawning age, distribution shifts, and smaller size. As capelin specialists, pursuit-diving common murres Uria aalge have had to adjust to these changes. We show that the masses of capelin provisioned to murre chicks at the species’ largest colony declined steadily from 1990-2017. We predicted that the parental provisioning of lower quality prey would reduce offspring condition, lower parental body mass, and increase foraging effort. Offspring condition declined, and while no negative effects were found on adult body mass, parental murres worked substantially harder in 2016, when capelin were dispersed and availability was low and when offspring and parental mass were the lowest in the time-series. These circumstances suggest that the murres neared a behavioral tolerance of parental effort. Despite the multi-decadal order-of-magnitude reduction in the regional capelin stock, parental murres coped by exploiting local prey availability at persistent shallow-water spawning sites and by increasing foraging effort. Even while the keystone forage fish stock remained at extremely low levels, the murre population increased, a likely consequence of enhanced adult survival due to amelioration of anthropogenic risk factors.


KEY WORDS: Forage fish · Seabirds · Prey availability · Prey quality · Foraging behavior · Provisioning · Predator · Resiliency


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Cite this article as: Montevecchi WA, Gerrow K, Buren AD, Davoren GK, Lewis KP, Montevecchi MW, Regular PM (2019) Pursuit-diving seabird endures regime shift involving a three-decade decline in forage fish mass and abundance. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 627:171-178. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13094

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