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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 631:201-207 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13164

Delayed predator-prey collapses: the case of black-legged kittiwakes and Iberian sardines

A. Martínez-Abraín1,*, P. Santidrián Tomillo2, J. Mouriño3, S. Tenan4, D. Oro5,6

1Universidade da Coruña, Facultad de Ciencias, Evolutionary Biology Group, Campus da Zapateira s/n, 15071 A Coruña, Spain
2The Leatherback Trust, Goldring-Gund Marine Biology Station, Playa Grande, Costa Rica
3Arcea, Xestión de Recursos Naturais S.L., Velázquez Moreno 9, oficina 305, 36201 Vigo, Spain
4MUSE - Museo delle Scienze, Sezione di Zoologia dei Vertebrati, Corso del Lavoro e della Scienza, 3, 38122 Trento, Italy
5Instituto Mediterráneo de Estudios Avanzados IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB), Miquel Marquès 21, 07190 Esporles, Spain
6Centre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes CEAB (CSIC), Acces Cala Sant Francesc 14, 17300 Blanes, Spain
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We analysed the long-term (1975-2017) population response of a colony of a marine top predator, the black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, to the population dynamics of sardine Sardina pilchardus, its main local prey. The study site (Sisargas Islands, Spain) is located at the southernmost edge of the geographical distribution of the predator. Kittiwake counts of breeding pairs started with the discovery of the colony (1975), likely close to the actual year of first colonization. Sardine landings by age class (1978-2016) were taken from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) database. Sequential t-test analysis revealed that a regime shift of the oldest sardine age class (age 6+) took place in 1991 and that kittiwakes experienced a regime shift in the number of breeding pairs in 1993, 2 yr after the prey shift. Multiple autocorrelation functions for the detrended time series of sardines and kittiwakes indicated an autocorrelation with a time lag of 2 yr. Despite much reduced fishing effort, sardine densities have not recovered since the collapse, likely due to changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation in the Northern Hemisphere in the late 1990s. Kittiwakes at Sisargas have not recovered demographically, remaining nearly extinct during the last ca. 20 yr. Although we lack detailed demographic data for the studied kittiwake population, we suggest that massive breeding failure and subsequent dispersal to higher-quality patches might explain the rapid non-linear collapse in breeding population density. We discuss some behavioural social responses that may have occurred during and after the collapse to explain the dynamics of the study colony.


KEY WORDS: Population crash · Black-legged kittiwakes · Time delay · Non-linearities · Predator-prey dynamics · Food availability · Iberian sardine · Fisheries collapse


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Cite this article as: Martínez-Abraín A, Santidrián Tomillo P, Mouriño J, Tenan S, Oro D (2019) Delayed predator-prey collapses: the case of black-legged kittiwakes and Iberian sardines. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 631:201-207. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13164

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