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Populations and trends of Canadian Arctic seabirds

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Canada’s eastern Arctic (Nunavut and Arctic Quebec—Nunavik, N of 60°) supports large numbers of seabirds in summer. Seabird breeding habitat in this region includes steep, rocky coasts and low-lying coasts backed by lowland sedge-meadow tundra. The former areas support colonial cliff- and scree-nesting seabirds, such as murres and fulmars; the latter inland or coastal seabirds, such as terns, gulls and jaegers. The region supports some 4 million breeding seabirds, of which the most numerous are thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia; 75%), black guillemots (Cepphus grylle; 9%), northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis; 8%) and black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla; 6%). The majority of Arctic seabirds breed in a small number of very large colonies (>10,000 birds), but there are also substantial numbers of non-colonial or small-colony breeding populations that are scattered more widely (e.g. terns, guillemots). Population trends among Canadian Arctic seabirds over the past few decades have been variable, with no strongly negative trends except for the rare ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea): this contrasts with nearby Greenland, where several species have shown steep declines. Although current seabird trends raise only small cause for concern, climate amelioration may enable increased development activities in the north, potentially posing threats to some seabirds on their breeding grounds.

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We thank the many students, contractors, collaborators and volunteers who have assisted with seabird research and monitoring in the Canadian Arctic and three anonymous referees who offered comments on an earlier draft. Our efforts would not have been successful without the financial and logistic support of Natural Resources Canada (Polar Continental Shelf Program), the Nunavut Research Institute, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (Northern Contaminants Program) and various branches of Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service and Science & Technology Branch).

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Correspondence to Anthony J. Gaston.

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Gaston, A.J., Mallory, M.L. & Gilchrist, H.G. Populations and trends of Canadian Arctic seabirds. Polar Biol 35, 1221–1232 (2012).

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