Journal of Ornithology

, 151:19 | Cite as

Local and large-scale climatic variables as predictors of the breeding numbers of endangered Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the Norwegian Coast

  • Jan Ove Bustnes
  • Tycho Anker-Nilssen
  • Svein-Håkon Lorentsen
Original Article


In the 1970s and 1980s, the nominate subspecies of the Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus) showed a dramatic drop in breeding numbers on the Norwegian Coast, and in 2000, the population in some colonies was only 10–20% of the population in 1980. This decline has been attributed to the collapse in the stock of Norwegian spring spawning herring (Clupea harengus). In this study, we examined whether local climate (sea and air temperatures), winter NAO (North Atlantic Oscilliation), and the year-class strength and size of 0-group herring could predict the relative changes in breeding numbers between years, mainly after the population collapse. Breeding birds were counted in 19 of the years between 1980 and 2007 in an archipelago on the coast of Helgeland, northern Norway. The best model predicting changes in breeding numbers for the period between 1980 and 2005 (for which data on 0-group herring was available) included mean local air temperature in winter (January–March) and winter NAO, explaining 57% of the variation between years, while the other factors had little effect. When also adding the years 2006–2007 (no herring data), the best model included only mean air temperature in winter, explaining 41% of the variation. In conclusion, the high positive correlation between breeding numbers and climatic factors probably resulted from a higher availability of important fish prey after mild winters, for which 0-group herring presently may only account for a limited proportion. However, this prey might have been of much more importance prior to the population decline.


NAO Temperature Climate change Seabird Population trend 



The Norwegian Monitoring Programme for Seabirds is financed through the Directorate for Nature Management. This study was also financed through the Norwegian Seabird Program (SEAPOP). We thank members of the local ornithological society, especially Espen Dahl and Gaute Dahl, for performing much of the monitoring, and the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen for permission to use the data series on herring abundance reported by ICES. In addition, we thank Jorg Welcker, Trond Johnsen and Morten Helberg for help during fieldwork and Rob Barrett for correcting the English.


  1. Anderson DR (2008) Model based inference in the life sciences: a primer on evidence. Springer, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anker-Nilssen T (1992) Food supply as a determinant of reproduction and population development in Norwegian Puffins Fratercula arctica. Doctoral thesis, University of TrondheimGoogle Scholar
  3. Anker-Nilssen T, Aarvak T (2006) Long-term studies of seabirds in the municipality of Røst, Nordland. Results with focus on 2004 and 2005. NINA Report 133, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Trondheim, Norway (in Norwegian with English summary and subtitles)Google Scholar
  4. Anker-Nilssen T, Barrett RT, Bjørkvoll E, Bustnes JO, Christensen-Dalsgaard S, Erikstad KE, Fauchald P, Grémillet D, Lorentsen S-H, Pettex E, Steen H, Strøm H, Systad GH, Tveraa T (2008) SEAPOP studies in the Norwegian and and Barents Seas in 2007. NINA Report 363, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Trondheim, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  5. Bakken V, Runde O, Tjørve E (2003) Norsk Ringmerkningsatlas. Vol 1. Stavanger Museum, Stavanger (in Norwegian)Google Scholar
  6. Bevanger K, Thingstad P-G (1990) Decrease in some Central Norwegian populations of the northern subspecies of the Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus) and its possible causes. Fauna Nor Ser C Cinclus 13:19–32Google Scholar
  7. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2003) Model selection and multimodel inference. A practical information-theoretic approach. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Bustnes JO, Erikstad KE, Lorentsen S-H, Herzke D (2008) Perfluorinated and chlorinated contaminants as predictors of demographic parameters in an endangered seabird. Environ Pollut 156:417–424CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Cook RM, Heath MR (2005) The implications of warming climate for the management of North Sea demersal fisheries. ICES J Mar Sci 62:1322–1326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cramp S, Simmons KEL (1983) The birds of the Western Palearctic, vol 3. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  11. Draper D (1995) Assessment and propagation of model uncertainty. J R Stat Soc B Methodol 57:45–97Google Scholar
  12. Durant JM, Anker-Nilssen T, Stenseth NC (2003) Trophic interactions under climate fluctuations: the Atlantic puffin as an example. Proc R Soc Lond B 270:1461–1466CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Durant JM, Anker-Nilssen T, Hjermann DØ, Stenseth NC (2004a) Regime shifts in the breeding of an Atlantic puffin population. Ecol Lett 7:388–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Durant JM, Stenseth NC, Anker-Nilssen T, Harris MP, Thompson PM, Wanless S (2004b) Marine birds and climate fluctuation in the North Atlantic. In: Stenseth NC, Ottersen G, Hurrell JW, Belgrano A (eds) Marine ecosystems and climate variation the North Atlantic. A Comparative Perspective. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 95–105Google Scholar
  15. Durant JM, Anker-Nilssen T, Stenseth NC (2006) Ocean climate prior to breeding affects the duration of the nestling period in the Atlantic puffin. Biol Lett 2:628–631CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Frederiksen M, Harris MP, Daunt F, Rothery P, Wanless S (2004) Scale-dependent climate signals drive breeding phenology of three seabird species. Glob Chang Biol 10:1214–1221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gjerdrum C, Vallee AMJ, St. Clair CC, Bertram DF, Ryder JL, Blackburn GS (2003) Tufted puffin reproduction reveals ocean climate variability. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 16:9377–9382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Götmark F (1984) Food and foraging in five European Larus gulls in the breeding season: a comparative review. Ornis Fenn 61:9–18Google Scholar
  19. Grosbois V, Thompson PM (2005) North Atlantic climate variation influences survival in adult fulmars. Oikos 109:273–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hario M, Bianki V, Zimin V (1998) Larus fuscus fuscus. In: Kotiranta H, Uotila P, Sulkava S, Peltonen S-L (eds) Red data book of East Fennoscandia. Ministry of Environment, Finnish Environment Institute and Botanical Museum, Finnish Museum of Natural History, Helsinki, pp 247–249Google Scholar
  21. Hario M, Hirvi JP, Hollmen T, Rudbäck E (2004) Organochlorine concentrations in diseased vs healthy gull chick from the Northern Baltic. Environ Pollut 127:411–423CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Harris MP, Heubeck M, Shaw DN, Okill JD (2006) Dramatic changes in the return date of Guillemots Uria aalge to colonies in Shetland, 1962–2005. Bird Study 53:247–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Helberg M, Systad GH, Birkeland I, Lorentzen NH, Bustnes JO (2009) Migration patterns of adults and juvenile lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus) breeding in northern Norway. Ardea (in press)Google Scholar
  24. Hurrell JW, Kushnir Y, Ottersen G, Visbeck M (2003) The North Atlantic Oscillation: climate significance and environmental impact. Geophys Monogr Ser 134:279Google Scholar
  25. ICES (2008) Report of the Working Group on Widely Distributed Stocks (WGWIDE), 2–11 September 2008, ICES Headquarters Copenhagen. ICES CM 2008/ACOM:13, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  26. Lehikoinen M, Kilpi M, Öst M (2006) Winter climate affects subsequent breeding success of common eiders. Glob Chang Biol 12:1355–1365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lorentsen S-H (2007) The national monitoring programme for seabirds. Results up to and including the breeding season 2007. NINA Report 313, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Trondheim, Norway. p 54 (in Norwegian, with English Summary)Google Scholar
  28. Myrberget S (1985) Breeding of lesser black-backed gulls at Tranøy in Senja [Hekking av sildemåke på Tranøya i Senja]. Fauna 38:140–145. (in Norwegian, with English summary)Google Scholar
  29. Ottersen G, Planque B, Belgrano A, Post E, Reid P, Stenseth NC (2001) Ecological effects of the North Atlantic Oscillation. Oecologia 128:1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Posada D, Buckley TR (2004) Model selection and model averaging in phylogenetics: advantages of Akaike Information Criterion and Bayesian approaches over likelihood ratio tests. Syst Biol 53:793–808CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Røv N (1986) Bestandsforhold hos sildemåke Larus fuscus i Norge med hovedvekt på L. f. fuscus. Var Fuglefauna 9:79–84. (in Norwegian with English summary)Google Scholar
  32. Royama T (1992) Analytical population dynamics: population and community. Biology Series 10. Chapman & Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  33. Sætre R, Toresen R, Anker-Nilssen T (2002) Factors affecting the recruitment variability of the Norwegian spring-spawning herring (Clupea harengus L.). ICES J Mar Sci 59:725–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 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
  35. Stenseth NC, Ottersen G, Hurrell JW, Belgrano A (2004) Marine ecosystems and climate variation—the North Atlantic. A comparative perspective. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  36. Strann K-B, Vader W (1992) The nominate lesser black-backed gull Larus fuscus fuscus, a gull with a tern-like feeding biology, and its recent decrease in northern Norway. Ardea 80:133–142Google Scholar
  37. R Development Core Team (2007) A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. ISBN 3-900051-07-0, URL
  38. Toresen R, Østvedt OJ (2000) Variation in abundance of Norwegian spring-spawning herring (Clupea harengus, Clupeidae) throughout the 20th century and the influence of climatic fluctuations. Fish Fish 1:231–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Venables WN, Ripley BD (2002) Modern applied statistics with S. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  40. Vie O (1987) Endringer av hekkesukkess og kolonistruktur som følge av bestandsnedgang hos nordnorsk sildemåke (Larus fuscus fuscus). MSc Thesis, University of Trondheim (in Norwegian)Google Scholar
  41. Votier S, Hatchwell BJ, Beckerman A, McCleery RH, Hunter FM, Pellatt J, Trinder M, Birkhead TR (2005) Oil pollution and climate have wide-scale impacts on seabird demographics. Ecol Lett 8:1157–1164CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Ove Bustnes
    • 1
  • Tycho Anker-Nilssen
    • 2
  • Svein-Håkon Lorentsen
    • 2
  1. 1.The Polar Environmental CentreNorwegian Institute for Nature ResearchTromsøNorway
  2. 2.Norwegian Institute for Nature ResearchTrondheimNorway

Personalised recommendations