, Volume 167, Issue 1, pp 49–59 | Cite as

Adverse foraging conditions may impact body mass and survival of a high Arctic seabird

  • Ann M. A. HardingEmail author
  • Jorg Welcker
  • Harald Steen
  • Keith C. Hamer
  • Alexander S. Kitaysky
  • Jérôme Fort
  • Sandra L. Talbot
  • Leslie A. Cornick
  • Nina J. Karnovsky
  • Geir W. Gabrielsen
  • David Grémillet
Behavioral ecology - Original Paper


Tradeoffs between current reproduction and future survival are widely recognized, but may only occur when food is limited: when foraging conditions are favorable, parents may be able to reproduce without compromising their own survival. We investigated these tradeoffs in the little auk (Alle alle), a small seabird with a single-egg clutch. During 2005–2007, we examined the relationship between body mass and survival of birds breeding under contrasting foraging conditions at two Arctic colonies. We used corticosterone levels of breeding adults as a physiological indicator of the foraging conditions they encountered during each reproductive season. We found that when foraging conditions were relatively poor (as reflected in elevated levels of corticosterone), parents ended the reproductive season with low body mass and suffered increased post-breeding mortality. A positive relationship between body mass and post-breeding survival was found in one study year; light birds incurred higher survival costs than heavy birds. The results of this study suggest that reproducing under poor foraging conditions may affect the post-breeding survival of long-lived little auks. They also have important demographic implications because even a small change in adult survival may have a large effect on populations of long-lived species.


Body mass Corticosterone Little auk Survival Tradeoff 



Many thanks to M. Hall, H. Routti, J. Fort, R. Orben, E. Weston, M. Anne Pella-Donnelly, K. Holser, L. Borg, S. Christensen-Dalsgaard, J. Delingat, N. Seifert, S. Natterer, and J. Schultner for their energy and assistance in the field, and to M. Munck, NANU Travel, C. Egevang, F. Delbart, T. and T. Fischbach, R. and J. Harding, and W. Moskal for their logistical support. We thank Z. Kitaiskaia for her expertly performed hormonal assays and W. Walkusz for the analysis of chick diet. This project was funded by the French Polar Institute Paul-Emile Victor (Grant 388 to D.G.), the National Science Foundation (grant 0612504 to A.M.A.H. and N.J.K.), the Research Council of Norway (MariClim, 165112/S30), and was supported by the USGS–Alaska Science Center. Additional funding was provided by NPRB grant no. RO320 and NSF EPSCoR NSF no. 0346770 to ASK. Earlier drafts of the manuscript benefited from thoughtful comments by J. Schmutz, M. Hall, and two anonymous reviewers. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. All field work in East Greenland was conducted with the permission of the Greenland Home Rule Government, Ministry of Environment and Nature (Danish Polar Centre Scientific Expedition Permit 512-240) and under permits of the Ethics Committee of the French Polar Institute (MP/12/24/05/05). All field work on Spitsbergen was conducted with the permission of the Governor of Svalbard.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann M. A. Harding
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jorg Welcker
    • 3
  • Harald Steen
    • 3
  • Keith C. Hamer
    • 2
  • Alexander S. Kitaysky
    • 4
  • Jérôme Fort
    • 5
  • Sandra L. Talbot
    • 6
  • Leslie A. Cornick
    • 1
  • Nina J. Karnovsky
    • 7
  • Geir W. Gabrielsen
    • 3
  • David Grémillet
    • 5
  1. 1.Environmental Science DepartmentAlaska Pacific UniversityAnchorageUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Integrative and Comparative BiologyUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK
  3. 3.Norwegian Polar InstitutePolarmiljøsenteretTromsøNorway
  4. 4.Department of Biology and Wildlife, Institute of Arctic BiologyUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  5. 5.Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CEFE)Montpellier Cedex 5France
  6. 6.Alaska Science CentreUS Geological SurveyAnchorageUSA
  7. 7.Department of BiologyPomona CollegeClaremontUSA

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