The impact of sea ice conditions on breeding decisions is modulated by body condition in an arctic partial capital breeder
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Determining how environmental conditions interact with individual intrinsic properties is important for unravelling the underlying mechanisms that drive variation in reproductive decisions among migratory species. We investigated the influence of sea ice conditions and body condition at arrival on the breeding propensity, i.e. the decision to reproduce or not within a single breeding season, and timing of laying in migrating common eiders (Somateria mollissima) breeding in the Arctic. Using Radarsat satellite images acquired from 2002 to 2013, we estimated the proportion of open water in the intertidal zone in early summer to track the availability of potential foraging areas for pre-breeding females. Timing of ice-breakup varied by up to 20 days across years and showed strong relationship with both breeding propensity and the timing of laying of eiders: fewer pre-breeding individuals were resighted nesting in the colony and laying was also delayed in years with late ice-breakup. Interestingly, the effect of sea ice dynamics on reproduction was modulated by the state of individuals at arrival on the breeding grounds: females arriving in low condition were more affected by a late ice-breakup. Open water accessibility in early summer, a likely proxy of food availability, is thus crucial for reproductive decisions in a (partial) capital breeder. Our predictive capacity in determining how Arctic-breeding seabirds respond to changes in environmental conditions will require incorporating such cross-seasonal cumulative effects.
KeywordsReproductive decisions Breeding propensity Individual state Sea ice Common eider
We would like to thank the field crew who collected data over many years, and I. Butler and R. Kelly for their help with the data management. We thank the Hunter and Trappers Organization (HTO) of Coral Harbour for supporting our research and the Canadian Ice Service for providing the SAR imagery. This study was supported by grants and logistical support from the following: Science and technology branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Polar Continental Shelf, Canadian Network of Centre of Excellence ArcticNet, Northern Scientific Training Program (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), EnviroNorth NSERC CREATE Training Program in Northern Environmental Sciences, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Fonds Québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies (FQRNT), Centre d’études nordiques (CEN), the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program.
All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.
FJG, JB and SB conceived the research question, the project and the analysis. FJG and PL conducted field work and GG provided long-term monitoring breeding data.FJG and PL analyzed the data. FJG, PL and JB wrote the manuscript; other authors provided editorial advice.
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