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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Spatial variation in vital rates and population growth of thick-billed murres in the Atlantic Arctic

Morten Frederiksen*, Sébastien Descamps, Kyle H. Elliott, Anthony J. Gaston, Nicholas P. Huffeldt, Yann Kolbeinsson, Jannie Fries Linnebjerg, Erlend Lorentzen, Flemming R. Merkel, Hallvard Strøm, Thorkell Lindberg Thórarinsson

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding spatiotemporal variation in vital rates and population growth rates is a central aim of population ecology, and is critical to conservation of migratory species where different populations may spend the non-breeding season in sometimes widely separated areas. However, estimating those parameters and identifying the underlying drivers of variation for species migrating to remote areas is challenging. The thick-billed murre Uria lomvia is a colonial seabird with a pan-Arctic distribution. Previous studies have documented large-scale spatial variation in population growth in the species’ Atlantic range, with eastern populations declining and western populations being stable, and suggested that this variation was linked to conditions in the wintering areas. We analyse variation in breeding success and adult survival from colonies throughout the Atlantic range, construct region-specific stochastic population models, and compare model predictions to observed colony growth rates. Breeding success was uniformly high in Greenland and Iceland, lower and more variable in Spitsbergen, Bjørnøya and Hudson Bay, and low at Jan Mayen. Adult survival was average or high in all colonies during the 2010s. Observed colony growth rates were lower than modelled growth rates for most populations. This suggests that pre-breeding survival or breeding propensity must have been lower than assumed in many of these populations. Low pre-breeding survival could be linked to poor feeding conditions in fall and winter, possibly influenced by large-scale oceanographic variation. Our results support the idea that seabird populations not subject to anthropogenic mortality on breeders are regulated mainly through variation in pre-breeding survival.