Storms and heat limit the nest success of Bank Cormorants: implications of future climate change for a surface-nesting seabird in southern Africa

Abstract

The Bank Cormorant Phalacrocorax neglectus is endemic to the Benguela Upwelling System of southern Africa. Most breeding colonies occur on offshore rocks, islands or man-made structures close to the high-water mark. Despite adaptations for breeding close to the water, nests can be lost to storms. Using data from two colonies where food is not considered limiting, we present a comparative study on nest survival in Bank Cormorants. Using a combination of the Mayfield method and parametric survival analysis, nest success was compared in nests on man-made structures at Robben Island, South Africa, where birds breed during the austral winter, with nests on man-made and natural structures at Mercury Island, Namibia, where Bank Cormorants breed during the austral summer. Overall, the probability of a nest surviving the breeding attempt was lower at Robben Island than at Mercury Island in all three seasons. Nest failures at Robben Island were related to wave heights and air temperature, with trends to suggest reduced chick survival in years where major storm events occurred during peak breeding. A heat wave appeared to cause major chick mortality at Mercury Island in 2005. Nest survival was relatively invariable between years at the main site monitored on Mercury Island, where nests were partially sheltered from the sun, but breeding productivity was poor in comparison to other cormorant species. Winter breeding in South Africa may increase the risk from storms but reduce the risk of heat exposure. An understanding of the impact of stochastic events on Bank Cormorants may be important in safe-guarding the continued survival of the species, particularly in light of the risks posed by future climate change.

Zusammenfassung

Stürme und Hitze limitieren den Bruterfolg der Küstenscharbe Phalacrocorax neglectus : Auswirkungen des Klimawandels auf einen nahe des Meeresspiegels brütenden Seevogel im südlichen Afrika

Die Küstenscharbe Phalacrocorax neglectus ist endemisch für das Auftriebsgebiet des Benguela-Stroms im südlichen Afrika. Die meisten Brutkolonien befinden sich auf Felsen, Inseln und künstlichen Strukturen kurz über der Hochwassermarke. Trotz Anpassungen an das Brüten nahe der Wasserlinie werden Nester oft durch Stürme zerstört. In dieser Studie vergleichen wir den Bruterfolg der Küstenscharbe in zwei unterschiedlichen Kolonien, in denen keine Nahrungsknappheit vorliegt. Mit Hilfe der Mayfield-Methode und parametrischer Tests zur Berechnung der Überlebensrate wurden der Bruterfolg von Tieren auf Robben Island, Südafrika, und Mercury Island, Namibia verglichen. Auf Robben Island brüten die Tiere im dortigen Winter auf künstlichen Strukturen, während die Vögel auf Mercury Island während der Sommermonate sowohl auf natürlichen als auch auf künstlichen Strukturen brüten. In allen drei Untersuchungsjahren lag der Bruterfolg auf Robben Island unter dem von Mercury Island. Nestverluste auf Robben Island wiesen einen Zusammenhang mit Wellenhöhe und Lufttemperaturen auf und höhere Kükenverlusten wurden in Jahren beobachtet, in denen große Sturmereignisse mit der Hauptbrutperiode zusammenfielen. Eine Hitzewelle in 2005 verursachte ein großes Kükensterben auf Mercury Island. Der Bruterfolg schwankte nur gering auf Mercury Island in der Hauptbrutkolonie, wo Nester teilweise geschützt und im Schatten lagen. Im Vergleich zu anderen Kormoranarten war der Bruterfolg aber eher gering. Das Brüten im Winter bei Tieren in Südafrika verringert die Gefahr der Verluste durch Hitzwellen, erhöht aber die Gefahr von Nestverlusten durch Stürme. Ein besseres Verständnis der Einflüsse von stochastischen Wetterereignissen auf den Bruterfolg dieser bedrohten Art ist besonders wichtig in Hinblick auf den Klimawandel und damit einhergehenden Veränderungen im Wetter.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by our institutes and funded by the Leverhulme Trust (R.B.S.), the Claude Leon Foundation (K.L.), the Earthwatch Institute (R.B.S., L.G.U.), and the SeaChange Programme of the National Research Foundation (L.G.U.). The study at Robben Island was conducted on behalf of the Oceans and Coasts (OC) branch of the Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa). The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), Namibia, gave permission to work on Mercury Island and provided transport to and from the island. MFMR, OC and the Robben Island Museum (RIM) provided logistical support. The wave data for Cape Point were supplied to R.B.S. by the Coastal Engineering and Port Infrastructure research group of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Stellenbosch, and were collected on behalf of the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA). The weather data from Robben Island were provided by the South African Weather Service (SAWS). We are grateful to SAWS, TNPA and CSIR for allowing their use here. T. Mario Leshoro (RIM) and Nola Parsons (OC) assisted with fieldwork. Peter J. Barham, Timothée Cook and one anonymous reviewer provided comments which improved earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Richard B. Sherley.

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Communicated by P. H. Becker.

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Sherley, R.B., Ludynia, K., Underhill, L.G. et al. Storms and heat limit the nest success of Bank Cormorants: implications of future climate change for a surface-nesting seabird in southern Africa. J Ornithol 153, 441–455 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-011-0760-8

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Keywords

  • Reproductive success
  • Nesting habitat
  • Climate change
  • Seabird conservation
  • Bank Cormorant
  • Phalacrocorax neglectus