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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 737:147-160 (2024)  -  DOI:

Breeding failures and reduced nest attendance in response to heat stress in a high-latitude seabird

Agnes B. Olin1,2,*, Lovisa Dück3, Per-Arvid Berglund3, Erika Karlsson3, Moa Bohm3, Olof Olsson4, Jonas Hentati-Sundberg2

1Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences (DEEP), Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
2Department of Aquatic Resources, Swedish University of Agricultural Science, 756 51 Uppsala, Sweden
3Baltic Seabird Project, 623 79 Klintehamn, Sweden
4Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Climate change research on seabirds has so far focused mainly on indirect effects acting via impacts at lower trophic levels. However, seabirds that breed in exposed sites may also be vulnerable to direct impacts from extreme weather events such as heatwaves, which are projected to increase in both severity and frequency with climate change. Yet there are relatively few field studies of how breeding seabirds respond to heatwaves. Here, we used video footage from a breeding colony of common guillemots Uria aalge in the Baltic Sea over 4 consecutive breeding seasons (2019-2022) to explore responses to air temperature and sun exposure. We found a positive relationship between temperature and 2 thermoregulatory behaviours: panting and postural changes. In addition, we show that as temperatures increase, breeding partners spend less time together at the colony. At the highest temperatures, some birds even temporarily abandon their eggs and chicks. Of 48 breeding failures recorded on video over 4 breeding seasons, we documented 13 cases directly associated with heat stress (corresponding to ca. 9% of all 150 breeding attempts recorded); 11 of these occurred during 2 periods with sunshine and particularly high temperatures in 2020 and 2022. Using a larger data set (>500 breeding attempts over 12 seasons), we also identified a clear increase in the probability of egg loss at higher temperatures. As such, the responses of breeding seabirds to heatwaves could have important demographic consequences in some populations, especially as heatwaves continue to increase in frequency and magnitude.

KEY WORDS: Heatwaves · Seabirds · Heat stress · Thermoregulation · Climate change

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Cite this article as: Olin AB, Dück L, Berglund PA, Karlsson E, Bohm M, Olsson O, Hentati-Sundberg J (2024) Breeding failures and reduced nest attendance in response to heat stress in a high-latitude seabird. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 737:147-160.

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