Flexible incubation rhythm in northern fulmars: a comparison between oceanographic zones
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Variation in the timing and abundance of marine food resources is known to affect the breeding behaviour of many seabirds, constraining our understanding of the extent to which these behaviours vary in different parts of a species’ range. We studied incubation shifts of northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) breeding at two colonies in Arctic Canada (High Arctic oceanographic zone) and one colony in the UK (Boreal oceanographic zone) between 2001 and 2005. Fulmars in Arctic Canada had longer incubation shifts than previously reported at more southern colonies, presumably because marine productivity is lower early in the breeding season in the Arctic. Shift durations were particularly long at one colony in years with abnormally late, extensive sea-ice cover, although at the other Arctic colony, where sea-ice cover is predictably late every year, the duration of shifts was shorter than expected. At the Boreal colony, incubation shifts were much longer than expected, similar to Arctic colonies, and likely attributable to poor marine food supplies in the North Sea in recent years. Collectively, our data suggest that fulmars can adjust their incubation rhythm to compensate for poor marine feeding conditions, although this may incur a cost to body condition or reproductive success.