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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Differential response of seabird species to warm- and cold-water events in a heterogeneous cross-shelf environment in the Gulf of Alaska

Daniel A. Cushing*, Katherine J. Kuletz, Leandra Sousa, Robert H. Day, Seth L. Danielson, Elizabeth A. Labunski, Russell R. Hopcroft

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We used seabird surveys and concurrent oceanographic observations in the Northern Gulf of Alaska during spring 1998–2019 to evaluate how seabirds responded to temperature variability, including a protracted marine heatwave, in a highly heterogenous ecosystem. We examined temporally-changing distributions of seabirds along the Seward Line, a 220-km transect across the shelf and slope, and evaluated relationships between water-mass properties and seabird abundance. Environmental factors associated with abundance include depth, water-column temperature and salinity, and surface-current velocities. Environmental responses of alcids and gulls contrast with those of procellariiform (tubenose) seabirds, and their trajectories suggest a possible shift in community composition under future climate warming. Changes in seabird distribution and abundance associated with a shift from cold to warm conditions were especially pronounced over the middle- and outer-shelf domains, which are transitional between coastal and oceanic water masses. The abundance of tubenoses increased during and after the heatwave, whereas alcids and gulls shifted inshore, exhibited reproductive failures, and experienced mass-mortalities due to starvation. Tubenoses appear well-adapted to periods of lower productivity during warming events because of their flight efficiency, allowing them to search widely to locate prey patches. In contrast, alcids, which forage by diving and have energetically-expensive flight, appear sensitive to such conditions.