A brand-new research article in the renowned journal Current Biology shows how different wintering strategies among Atlantic puffins from colonies spread across the species’ range influence their reproductive performance the following breeding season. Colony size, migration distance and the latitude of the wintering grounds are among the factors that influence breeding success negatively.

In order to understand how animal migration patterns are shaped, why different populations have different migration strategies and how these strategies influence population dynamics, one must study migration patterns on a large scale across the entire range of the species. Researchers from eight countries and 13 institutions have cooperated to achieve this in a study looking at migration tracks and breeding success in Atlantic puffins. Light-logger data from 270 individual birds from 13 different colonies in UK, Ireland, Norway, Canada and USA were analysed. 

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The tracking data showed that puffins from large colonies or areas where winter conditions are unfavourable migrated further away from the colony and visited less productive waters. These birds had a lower reproduction rate the following summer. A negative relationship was also found between breeding success and wintering latitude. The mechanisms behind these relations may be related to energy expenditure: Competition for resources is highest in large colonies, which means that the birds must travel further to find enough prey during the breeding season. Long migration routes also demand more energy, as does wintering in cold environments. The higher the energy expenditure during wintering, the lower the energy reserves at the onset of the next breeding season, which in turn may reduce the reproductive ability.

The study demonstrates the value of modern logger technology in the mapping of the birds’ habitat use outside the breeding season and the importance of extensive international cooperation in this field of work.

Contact person: Kjell Einar Erikstad, NINA / Tycho Anker-Nilssen, NINA

Having small wings relative to body weight, puffins have to “run” several meters on the surface before being able to take off.
Photo: Tycho Anker-Nilssen