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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Population status and trend of the threatened ivory gull Pagophila eburnea in Svalbard

Hallvard Strøm*, Vidar Bakken, Anders Skoglund, Sébastien Descamps, Vegard B. Fjeldheim, Harald Steen

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The ivory gull Pagophila eburnea is a high-arctic seabird associated with sea-ice throughout the year. It breeds at high latitudes, mostly in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic. It is rare (< 11500 breeding pairs globally) and remains one of the most poorly known seabirds in the world. Although Svalbard (Norway) supports breeding populations of international significance, the population trend in the region was unknown until this study. We conducted annual surveys of known breeding sites from 2006 to 2019 to estimate the size of the ivory gull population in Svalbard and to assess the population trend. We visited 117 colonies, 60 of which were new discoveries during this study. All breeding sites were situated in cliffs, and no ground-breeding ivory gulls were found. Based on the most complete survey in 2019, we estimated the Svalbard breeding population to be between 1500 and 2000 breeding pairs. We recorded an overall 40% decline in the number of breeding ivory gulls, but the trends varied significantly among colonies. The inter-annual fluctuations in the number of breeding pairs were not synchronous among colonies, which can be explained by the movements of adult breeding birds between colonies. The current decline in the Svalbard ivory gull population could be related to the ongoing decline in sea ice extent and quality in the Barents Sea. It may also be driven by ecological changes along the migration routes or at the wintering grounds, as hypothesized for the Canadian breeding population.