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MEPS 662:169-180 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13615

Stable isotopes in seabirds reflect changes in marine productivity patterns

Francisco Ramírez1,*,#, Diego Vicente-Sastre2,#, Isabel Afán3, José M. Igual4, Daniel Oro5, Manuela G. Forero3

1Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC), Department of Renewable Marine Resources, Passeig Maritim de la Barceloneta, 37-49, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
2Departament de Biologia Evolutiva, Ecologia i Ciències Ambientals, Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 643, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
3Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC), C/ Avda. de Américo Vespucio 26, Isla de la Cartuja, 41092 Sevilla, Spain
4Animal Demography and Ecology Unit, Institut Mediterrani d’Estudis Avançats, IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB), Miquel Marquès 21, 07190 Esporles, Spain
5Centre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes CEAB (CSIC), Acces Cala Sant Francesc 14, 17300 Blanes, Spain
*Corresponding author:
#These authors contributed equally to this work

ABSTRACT: Seabirds have been proposed as suitable candidates for tracking and monitoring changes in marine systems (bioindicators). However, their suitability depends on our ability to link the large degree of environmental variability inherent to marine systems with a few, relevant, and accessible signals (biomarkers) informing on changes in their feeding behavior or reproductive performance. We combined satellite remote-sensing records with stable isotope data (δ15N and δ13C) and breeding parameters (fledging success) spanning several years (2001-2014) to investigate the ecological responses to environmental variability by 2 sympatric seabirds inhabiting the western Mediterranean: Scopoli’s shearwater Calonectris diomedea and Cory’s shearwater C. borealis. Both species showed similar annual variations in their stable isotopic composition, likely as a response to the trophic consequences of changes in the magnitude and timing of the annual peak in marine productivity (as proxied by satellite imagery of chlorophyll a concentrations). In contrast, no relevant responses were observed in their breeding performance, suggesting that their life-history strategy has evolved to constancy in breeding success, which diminishes its value as a biomarker of changes in marine productivity patterns. Despite this limitation, combining remote sensing and stable isotopes in seabirds is a reliable and powerful tool for the early detection of fine-scale, climate-driven changes in marine productivity patterns and its cascading effects across communities and trophic levels, especially under the current scenario of ocean warming.


KEY WORDS: Biomarker · Biomonitoring · Chlorophyll a · Ocean warming · Remote sensing · Reproductive performance · Shearwater · Calonectris


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Cite this article as: Ramírez F, Vicente-Sastre D, Afán I, Igual JM, Oro D, Forero MG (2021) Stable isotopes in seabirds reflect changes in marine productivity patterns. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 662:169-180. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13615

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