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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 737:59-88 (2024)  -  DOI:

Seabird responses to ecosystem changes driven by marine heatwaves in a warming Arctic

Katherine J. Kuletz1,*, Adrian E. Gall2, Tawna C. Morgan2, Alexander K. Prichard2, Lisa B. Eisner3, David G. Kimmel3, Alex De Robertis3, Robert M. Levine3, Timothy Jones4, Elizabeth A. Labunski1

1US Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage, Alaska 99503, USA
2ABR, Inc.—Environmental Research & Services, Fairbanks, Alaska 99708, USA
3Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, Seattle, Washington 98115, USA
4School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA
*Corresponding author: (retired affiliate

ABSTRACT: In the Pacific Arctic, the Chukchi Sea has been warming for decades, and exhibited an exceptionally warm period from 2015 to 2021. We examined changes in seabird distribution and abundance in the Chukchi Sea, and their relationships to environmental and prey conditions between 2 contrasting periods. We sampled systematically placed stations in late summer during 2 years before (2012, 2013) and 2 years during the warm period (2017, 2019; characterized by multiple marine heatwaves). Ship-based bird counts were used to model at-sea density of 5 seabird foraging guilds relative to oceanographic (water temperature, salinity, chlorophyll) and prey (large copepods, euphausiids, 3 forage fish taxa) variables. Relative to cool years, heatwave years were characterized by warmer, saltier waters, low abundance of large copepods and euphausiids, and elevated fish abundance, including an unprecedented abundance of age-0 walleye pollock Gadus chalcogrammus. Seabird species richness was higher during heatwave years but diversity was lower, driven by an influx of shearwaters. The best models for surface feeding and diving piscivores and diving planktivores included oceanographic and prey variables, plus a heatwave interaction term, indicating that responses to variables differed between cool and heatwave periods, with greatest disparity exhibited by diving planktivores. Models for surface planktivores were inconclusive, whereas shearwater distribution was associated with geographic variables (latitude, distance offshore), with relationships differing during cool and heatwave periods. We propose a conceptual model of how a prolonged period of marine heatwaves may affect the offshore seabird community via changes in prey species composition and distribution.

KEY WORDS: Marine heatwave · Seabird foraging · Seabird response · Arctic marine ecology · Chukchi Sea · Aethia auklets · Short-tailed shearwater

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Cite this article as: Kuletz KJ, Gall AE, Morgan TC, Prichard AK and others (2024) Seabird responses to ecosystem changes driven by marine heatwaves in a warming Arctic. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 737:59-88.

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