, Volume 163, Issue 4, pp 893–902 | Cite as

Distribution patterns of wintering sea ducks in relation to the North Atlantic Oscillation and local environmental characteristics

  • Elise F. ZipkinEmail author
  • Beth Gardner
  • Andrew T. Gilbert
  • Allan F. O’ConnellJr.
  • J. Andrew Royle
  • Emily D. Silverman
Population ecology - Original Paper


Twelve species of North American sea ducks (Tribe Mergini) winter off the eastern coast of the United States and Canada. Yet, despite their seasonal proximity to urbanized areas in this region, there is limited information on patterns of wintering sea duck habitat use. It is difficult to gather information on sea ducks because of the relative inaccessibility of their offshore locations, their high degree of mobility, and their aggregated distributions. To characterize environmental conditions that affect wintering distributions, as well as their geographic ranges, we analyzed count data on five species of sea ducks (black scoters Melanitta nigra americana, surf scoters M. perspicillata, white-winged scoters M. fusca, common eiders Somateria mollissima, and long-tailed ducks Clangula hyemalis) that were collected during the Atlantic Flyway Sea Duck Survey for ten years starting in the early 1990s. We modeled count data for each species within ten-nautical-mile linear survey segments using a zero-inflated negative binomial model that included four local-scale habitat covariates (sea surface temperature, mean bottom depth, maximum bottom slope, and a variable to indicate if the segment was in a bay or not), one broad-scale covariate (the North Atlantic Oscillation), and a temporal correlation component. Our results indicate that species distributions have strong latitudinal gradients and consistency in local habitat use. The North Atlantic Oscillation was the only environmental covariate that had a significant (but variable) effect on the expected count for all five species, suggesting that broad-scale climatic conditions may be directly or indirectly important to the distributions of wintering sea ducks. Our results provide critical information on species–habitat associations, elucidate the complicated relationship between the North Atlantic Oscillation, sea surface temperature, and local sea duck abundances, and should be useful in assessing the impacts of climate change on seabirds.


Bayesian analysis Climate change Negative binomial model 



The authors thank the many pilots and observers working with the Migratory Bird Survey Branch of the Division of Migratory Bird Management (USFWS) for their hard work in conceiving of and carrying out the survey, especially Jim Goldsberry. We thank Robert Raftovich (USFWS) for his efforts managing and summarizing the data. We also thank Matt Perry, Alicia Berlin, Bill Fagan, the theoretical ecology lab group at the University of Maryland, Ola Olsson, Richard Veit, and an anonymous reviewer for many useful comments that helped improve the quality of the manuscript. The Sea Duck Joint Venture (USFWS), Science Support Partnership (USGS) and the Minerals Management Service provided funding to develop models for analysis of the AFSDS. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Supplementary material

442_2010_1622_MOESM1_ESM.doc (34 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 34 kb)


  1. Migratory Bird Data Center (2009) Accessed 10 January 2009
  2. Bell I, Visbeck M (2009) The North Atlantic Oscillation. Accessed 15 June 2009
  3. Braeger IS, Meissner J, Thiel M (1995) Temporal and spatial abundance of wintering Common Eider, long-tailed duck, and common scoter in shallow water areas of southwestern Baltic Sea. Ornis Fenn 72:19–28Google Scholar
  4. Caithamer DF, Otto M, Padding PI, Sauer JR, Haas GH (2000) Sea ducks in the Atlantic flyway: population status and a review of the special hunting seasons. US Fish and Wildlife Service. Laurel, MDGoogle Scholar
  5. Clarke ED, Spear LB, Mccracken ML, Marques FFC, Borchers DL, Buckland ST, Ainley DG (2003) Validating the use of generalized additive models and at-sea surveys to estimate size and temporal trends of seabird populations. J Appl Ecol 40:278–292Google Scholar
  6. Cook E, D’Arrigo R, Mann M (2002) A well-verified, multiproxy reconstruction of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation index since AD 1400. J Clim 15:1754–1764CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Divins DL, Metzger D (2008) NGDC Coastal Relief Model, NGDC Coastal Relief Model Vol. 01 and 02 Shaded Relief Images. Accessed 18 April 2009
  8. Forchhammer MC, Post E, Stenseth NC (1998) Breeding phenology and climate. Nature 391:29–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gelman A, Hill J (2007) Data analysis using regression and multilevel/hierarchical models. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Guillemette M, Himmelman JH, Barette C (1993) Habitat selection by common eiders in winter and its interaction with flock size. Can J Zool 71:1259–1266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Halkka A, Halkka L, Halkka O, Roukka K, Pokki J (2006) Lagged effects of North Atlantic Oscillation on spittlebug Philaenus spumarius (Homoptera) abundance and survival. Glob Chang Biol 12:2250–2262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hall D (2000) Zero-inflated Poisson and binomial regression with random effects: a case study. Biometrics 56:1030–1039CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Hallett TB, Coulson T, Pilkington JG, Clutton-Brock TH, Pemberton JM, Grenfell BT (2004) Why large-scale climate indices seem to predict ecological processes better than local weather. Nature 430:71–75CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Higuchi K, Huang J, Shabbar A (1999) A wavelet characterization of the North Atlantic oscillation variation and its relationship to the North Atlantic sea surface temperature. Int J Climatol 19:1119–1129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hoerling MP, Hurrell JW, Xu T (2001) Tropical origins for recent North Atlantic climate change. Science 292:90–92CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hüppop O, Hüppop K (2003) North Atlantic oscillations and the timing of spring migration in birds. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 270:233–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hurrell JW (1995) Decadal trends in the North Atlantic oscillation and relationships to regional temperature and precipitation. Science 269:676–679CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Hurrell JW, Kushnir Y, Ottersen G, Visbeck M (2003) The North Atlantic oscillation climate significance and environmental impacts. Geophys Monogr Ser 134:1–36Google Scholar
  19. Jones P, Jonsson T, Wheeler D (1997) Extension to the North Atlantic oscillation using early instrumental pressure observations from Gibraltar and South-West Iceland. Int J Climatol 17:1433–1450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kempton W, Archer CL, Dhanju A, Garvine RW, Jacobson MZ (2007) Large CO2 reductions via offshore wind power matched to inherent storage in energy end-uses. Geophys Res Lett 34:L02817CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kirk M, Esler D, Iverson SA (2008) Movements of wintering surf scoters: predator responses to different prey landscapes. Oecologia 155:859–867CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Larsen JK, Guillemette M (2007) Effects of wind turbines on flight behaviour of wintering common eiders: implications for habitat use and collision risk. J Appl Ecol 44:516–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lehikoinen A, Kilpi M, Ost M (2006) Winter climate affects subsequent breeding success of common eiders. Glob Chang Biol 12:1355–1365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lewis TL, Esler D, Boyd WS (2008) Foraging behavior of surf scoters and white-winged scoters in relation to clam density: inferring food availability and habitat quality. Auk 125:149–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Link WA, Sauer JR (2007) A hierarchical analysis of population change with application to cerulean warblers. Ecology 83:2832–2840CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Martin TG, Wintle BA, Rhodes JR, Kuhnert PM, Field SA, Low-Choy SJ, Tyre AJ, Possingham HP (2005) Zero tolerance ecology: improving ecological inference by modelling the source of zero observations. Ecol Lett 8:1235–1246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Merkel FR, Mosbech A, Sonne C, Flagstad A, Falk K, Jamieson SE (2006) Local movements, home ranges and body condition of common eiders wintering in southwest Greenland. Ardea 94:639–650Google Scholar
  28. Moller A (2002) North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) effects of climate on the relative importance of first and second clutches in a migratory passerine bird. J Anim Ecol 71:201–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ottersen G, Planque B, Belgrano A, Post E, Reid PC, Stenseth NC (2001) Ecological effects of the North Atlantic Oscillation. Oecologia 128:1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Perry MC, Deller AS (1995) Waterfowl population trends in the Chesapeake Bay area. In: Hill, Nelson S (eds) Proceedings of the 1994 Chesapeake Research Conference; toward a sustainable watershed: the Chesapeake experiment (CRC Publication no. 149). Chesapeake Research Consortium, Edgewater, MD, pp 490–504Google Scholar
  31. Perry MC, Wells-Berlin AM, Kidwell DM, Osenton PC (2007) Temporal changes of populations and trophic relationships of wintering diving ducks in Chesapeake Bay. Waterbirds 30(Spec Publ 1):4–16Google Scholar
  32. Post E, Forchhammer MC (2002) Synchronization of animal population dynamics by large-scale climate. Nature 420:168–171CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Post E, Stenseth NC (1999) Climatic variability, plant phenology, and northern ungulates. Ecology 80:1322–1339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Reynolds R, Rayner N, Smith T, Stokes D, Wang W (2002) An improved in situ and satellite SST analysis for climate. J Clim 15:1609–1625CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sandvik H, Erikstad KE (2008) Seabird life histories and climatic fluctuations: a phylogenetic-comparative time series analysis of North Atlantic seabirds. Ecography 31:73–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sandvik H, Erikstad KE, Barrett RT, Yoccoz NG (2005) The effect of climate on adult survival in five species of North Atlantic seabirds. J Anim Ecol 74:817–831CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sea Duck Joint Venture (2003) Species status report.
  38. Stenseth NC, Mysterud A (2005) Weather packages: finding the right scale and composition of climate in ecology. J Anim Ecol 74:1195–1198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stenseth NC, Mysterud A, Ottersen G, Hurrell JW, Chan KS, Lima M (2002) Ecological effects of climate fluctuations. Science 297:1292–1296CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Stott RS, Olson DP (1973) Food–habitat relationship of sea ducks on the New Hampshire coastline. Ecology 54:996–1007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Suski CD, Ridgway MS (2007) Climate and body size influence nest survival in a fish with parental care. J Anim Ecol 76:730–739CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Thomas CD, Lennon JJ (1999) Birds extend their ranges northwards. Nature 399:213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Thompson PM, Grosbois V (2002) Effects of climate variation on seabird population dynamics. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 1:50–52Google Scholar
  44. Thompson P, Ollason J (2001) Lagged effects of ocean climate change on fulmar population dynamics. Nature 413:417–420CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Weatherhead PJ (2005) Effects of climate variation on timing of nesting, reproductive success, and offspring sex ratios of red-winged blackbirds. Oecologia 144:168–175CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Wenger SJ, Freeman MC (2008) Estimating species occurrence, abundance, and detection probability using zero-inflated distributions. Ecology 89:2953–2959CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elise F. Zipkin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Beth Gardner
    • 1
  • Andrew T. Gilbert
    • 2
  • Allan F. O’ConnellJr.
    • 3
  • J. Andrew Royle
    • 1
  • Emily D. Silverman
    • 4
  1. 1.USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research CenterLaurelUSA
  2. 2.USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research CenterAugustaUSA
  3. 3.USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research CenterBeltsvilleUSA
  4. 4.USFWS Division of Migratory Bird ManagementLaurelUSA

Personalised recommendations