Articles | Volume 13, issue 8
Biogeosciences, 13, 2405–2414, 2016

Special issue: Catastrophic reduction of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean...

Biogeosciences, 13, 2405–2414, 2016

Research article 26 Apr 2016

Research article | 26 Apr 2016

Differential responses of seabirds to environmental variability over 2 years in the continental shelf and oceanic habitats of southeastern Bering Sea

Takashi Yamamoto1,2,a, Nobuo Kokubun1,3, Dale M. Kikuchi3, Nobuhiko Sato3, Akinori Takahashi1,3, Alexis P. Will4, Alexander S. Kitaysky4, and Yutaka Watanuki2 Takashi Yamamoto et al.
  • 1National Institute of Polar Research, 10-3 Midoricho, Tachikawa, Tokyo 190-8518, Japan
  • 2Graduate School of Fisheries Sciences, Hokkaido University, 3-1-1 Minatocho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 041-8611, Japan
  • 3Department of Polar Science, Graduate University for Advanced Studies (SOKENDAI), 10-3 Midoricho, Tachikawa, Tokyo 190-8518, Japan
  • 4Institute of Arctic Biology, Department of Biology and Wildlife, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA
  • apresent address: Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Nagoya University, Furo-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya, Aichi 464-8601, Japan

Abstract. Seasonal sea-ice cover has been decreasing in the southeastern Bering Sea shelf, which might affect ecosystem dynamics and availability of food resources to marine top predators breeding in the region. In this study, we investigated the foraging responses of two seabird species, surface-foraging red-legged kittiwakes Rissa brevirostris (hereafter, RLKI) and pursuit-diving foraging thick-billed murres Uria lomvia (TBMU) to different marine environmental conditions over 2 years. At-sea distributions of RLKI and TBMU breeding on St. George Island, the largest seabird colony in the region, were recorded using GPS loggers, and blood samples were taken to examine their physiological condition and isotopic foraging niche in a given year. Between the study years, winter ice retreated earlier and summer water temperatures were relatively warmer in 2014 compared to those in 2013. RLKI foraging occurred mostly over the oceanic basin in both years. TBMU, however, foraged mostly over the shelf but showed a relatively higher use of the shelf break and oceanic basin in 2013. The foraging distances from the colony peaked at 250–300 km in 2013 and bimodally at 150–250 and 300–350 km in 2014 for RLKI and tended to be farther in 2013 compared to those in 2014 for TBMU. Plasma levels of corticosterone did not differ between the years in RLKI but differed in TBMU, showing higher levels of physiological stress incurred by murres in 2013, the year of relatively cooler sea surface temperatures with later sea-ice retreat. δ13N (a proxy of trophic level of prey) did not differ between the years in either RLKI or TBMU. These results suggest that the response of ecosystem dynamics to climate variability in the southeastern Bering Sea may differ between the ocean basin and continental shelf regions, which, in turn, may generate differential responses in seabirds relying on those habitats for foraging.

Short summary
In the southeastern Bering Sea, red-legged kittiwakes did not change their foraging locations largely in relation to the differences in marine environment between 2 years probably due to their reliance on myctophids, while thick-billed murres showed fluctuations in physiological condition and flexible foraging behavior on the shelf. These results suggest that the responses of ecosystem dynamics and seabirds to climate variability may differ between the oceanic basin and shelf regions.
Final-revised paper