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Climate affects food availability to planktivorous least auklets Aethia pusilla through physical processes in the southeastern Bering Sea

TitleClimate affects food availability to planktivorous least auklets Aethia pusilla through physical processes in the southeastern Bering Sea
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsDorresteijn, I, Kitaysky, AS, Barger, C, Benowitz-Fredericks, ZM, Byrd, GV, Shultz, M, Young, R
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Volume454
Pagination207–220
Abstract

Climate change might affect marine top predators by altering availability and nutritional quality of their prey. Climate effects vary on a regional basis, and our understanding of the relationships between fluctuations in climate and food resources in sub-arctic regions with seasonal ice cover is limited. We studied the effects of inter-annual climate variability (as reflected in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, PDO, and the timing of the winter ice retreat) on zooplankton–planktivorous predator linkages in one of the most productive regions of the southeastern Bering Sea, the ‘Green Belt’. We examined changes in diets (species composition of chick meals and stable isotope signatures of adult blood) and relative food availability (as reflected in blood plasma concentrations of the stress hormone corticosterone) of planktivorous least auklets Aethia pusillabreeding on St. George I. (shelf-break) and St. Paul I. (shelf) during 2003 to 2005 and 2008 to 2009. We found that isotopic signatures of blood and composition of chick meals differed between the colonies. The proportion of energy-rich oceanic copepods Neocalanus spp. in the diet declined during warm years (high PDO and early ice retreat) on St. Paul but not on St. George. However, inter-annual and seasonal dynamics of corticosterone were similar between the colonies, and aukletsexperienced higher nutritional stress during warm compared to cold years. Our results suggest that the influx of prey-bearing water masses from the ocean basin and the retention time of oceanic copepods on the shelf are the main factors affecting composition of prey and its availability to auklets. We conclude that anticipated climate warming will negatively affect food availability of planktivorous predators in the Green Belt region of the southeastern Bering Sea.

DOI10.3354/meps09372
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