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Storm-induced shifts in optimal nesting sites: a potential effect of climate change

Abstract

Extreme storm events encountered during any stage of the annual cycle can result in increased mortality and influence population dynamics. Storms during the reproductive season, when birds are tied to fixed nesting locations, can be particularly problematic. Given predicted changes in the frequency and intensity of storms in a changing climate, studies examining the impacts of storms on reproductive success in model systems are important. Island-nesting seabirds may be particularly vulnerable to changes in storm frequency and intensity. Here, we report on the effects of an extreme storm in June 2012 on Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) reproduction on an island in the Gulf of Maine, USA. More than 22 % of monitored nests were lost in this single event leading to a seasonal shift in the optimal nesting locations for birds in our population. Nests closer to water and nests located at low elevations were disproportionately affected by the unusual weather, reversing trends in optimal nesting sites recorded in previous seasons. Spatiotemporal shifts in optimal nesting locations, therefore, may be one result of climate-induced changes in storm frequency and intensity. Although some birds with nests destroyed in the storm attempted to renest, these attempts experienced low success, and overall reproductive success in the storm-affected season was lower than in the previous three nesting seasons.

Zusammenfassung

Veränderungen der optimalen Neststandorte durch Stürme: Ein möglicher Effekt des Klimawandels

Extreme Stürme, die irgendwann im Jahreszyklus auftreten, können zu erhöhter Mortalität führen und die Dynamik von Populationen beeinflussen. Stürme während der Brutsaison, wenn Vögel an feste Nistplätze gebunden sind, können besonders problematisch sein. In Anbetracht der vorhergesagten Veränderungen der Häufigkeit und Intensität von Stürmen im Rahmen des Klimawandels sind Studien, welche die Auswirkungen von Stürmen auf den Fortpflanzungserfolg in Modellsystemen untersuchen, besonders wichtig. Auf Inseln brütende Seevögel dürften gegenüber Veränderungen der Sturmhäufigkeit und -intensität besonders empfindlich sein. Hier berichten wir über die Effekte eines extremen Nordoststurms im Juni 2012 auf die Fortpflanzung von Silbermöwen (Larus argentatus) auf einer Insel im Golf von Maine, USA. Über 22 % der überwachten Nester wurden bei diesem Einzelereignis zerstört, wodurch es zu einer saisonalen Veränderung der optimalen Neststandorte für die Vögel in unserer Population kam. Nester, die näher am Wasser und in niedrigerer Höhe lagen, wurden vom ungewöhnlichen Wetter unverhältnismäßig stark beeinflusst, was die in vorherigen Jahren beobachteten Trends in Bezug auf optimale Neststandorte umkehrte. Raumzeitliche Verschiebungen in den optimalen Neststandorten können daher ein Ergebnis von klimainduzierten Veränderungen der Sturmhäufigkeit und -intensität sein. Einige Vögel, deren Nester durch den Sturm zerstört worden waren, versuchten, erneut zu nisten, doch diese Brutversuche waren von geringem Erfolg, und insgesamt war der Fortpflanzungserfolg in der vom Sturm betroffenen Saison niedriger als in den vorherigen drei Brutzeiten.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Julie Ellis and William Clark for sharing enthusiastic support and endless knowledge of the gulls of Appledore Island. Brendan Fogarty provided field assistance. Special thanks to the staff of Shoals Marine Lab, in particular Captains Zak Robinson and Kevin Wells, for logistical support. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Redhead Research Fund supported S.S.S. and M.C.M. The study was conducted in compliance with the Ornithological Council’s Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research, complied with all state and federal laws, and was approved by the Cornell University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (permit # 2011-0036). This is Shoals Marine Lab contribution #167.

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Correspondence to David N. Bonter.

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Bonter, D.N., MacLean, S.A., Shah, S.S. et al. Storm-induced shifts in optimal nesting sites: a potential effect of climate change. J Ornithol 155, 631–638 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-014-1045-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-014-1045-9

Keywords

  • Gull reproduction
  • Nest site selection
  • Weather
  • Seabird colony