A study of 29 arctic seabird species revealed that surface-feeding species have advanced their reproduction over the last 35 years, while this was not detected among diving species.

An earlier spring

Arctic seabirds have a relatively narrow time window with optimal conditions in which to complete their breeding. Outside this window, conditions can be harsh with bad weather and low food availability. The onset of spring is advancing with the ongoing climate change, and this may alter the breeding time window. To study how arctic seabirds respond to an earlier spring, data on breeding phenology among 29 species in 36 colonies were collected and compared with the onset of spring over a 35 year period.

Diverging responses

Between 1982 and 2016, surface-feeding seabirds advanced their start of reproduction, but these changes were significant in the Pacific only, where spring advancement was most pronounced. Diving seabirds did not change their timing of breeding. In both the Atlantic and Pacific, seabirds with a long breeding season showed a greater response to the advancement of spring than seabirds with a short breeding season. The study illustrates the capacity for seabirds to adjust their breeding phenology as a response to climate change, and species unable to do so might be more prone to population decline. It also highlights the key role played by the species’ foraging behaviour.

Read the article:

Contact person: Sébastien Descamps, Norwegian Polar Institute

The black-legged kittiwake, which breeds along the Norwegian coast and on Svalbard, is one of species investigated in the study.
Photo: Sébastien Descamps, Norwegian Polar Institute