Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 88, Issue 1–3, pp 153–181

Seabirds as Indicators of Changes in Marine Ecosystems: Ecological Monitoring on Machias Seal Island

  • A.W. Diamond
  • C.M. Devlin
Article

Abstract

Changes in marine ecosystems can be manifested in many different ways, on different temporal and spatial scales. Seabirds are top consumers in marine foodwebs and offer opportunities to detect and assess the biological effects of changes in physical parameters (sea-surface temperature [SST], salinity, depth of thermocline etc.) of the marine ecosystem. We compare six-eight years' of data on the biology (diet, and breeding success) of four species of seabird (arctic tern Sterna paradisaeaand common tern S. hirundo, which feed at the sea surface; and Atlantic puffin Fratercula arctica and razorbill Alca torda, which dive 30–60 m for their prey) breeding on Machias Seal Island (MSI) in the Bay of Fundy with both our own meteorological and oceanographic measurements, and with standard measurements from conventional sources. These are compared with fisheries data on changes in the main prey of all the seabirds concerned (juvenile or ‘0-group’ herring Clupea harengus) which are the most direct link between the seabirds and the physical properties of the marine system. We explore relationships between seabird productivity and diet, and other aspects of both herring biology (larval surveys, and fat content) and oceanography (SST data from the island, and remotely sensed data from the entrance to the Bay of Fundy). Timing of laying by puffins followed SST variation at neither the local (MSI) nor regional scales, but at the scale of the North Atlantic, following the trend of populations breeding off northern Norway. The proportion of herring in the diet of terns over 6 years varied inversely with herring larval abundance the previous fall; this relationship was not statistically significant in the puffin and razorbill. A major new finding is the considerable (∼50%) inter-annual variation in the energy density (fat content) of juvenile herring that are the main seabird prey; breeding success of both species of tern varied in parallel with the energy density of juvenile herring in the diet until the last two years of the study, when sandlance (Ammodytes sp.) and euphausid shrimp predominated in the diet. Our long-term research approach combines traditional population monitoring (of numbers of breeding birds) with demographic, behavioural and environmental monitoring, to provide new understanding of the marine ecosystem as well as of seabirds.

Bay of Fundy energy density foodweb Gulf of Maine herring indicators Machias Seal Island monitoring puffin razorbill scale sea-surface temperature seabird tern weather 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Aebischer, N. J., Coulson, J. C. and Colehsook, J. M.: 1990, ‘Parallel long-term trends across four marine trophic levels and weather’, Nature 147, 753–755.Google Scholar
  2. Amey, K. D.: 1998, Seabirds as indicators of changes in availability and commercial weir landings of herring, M.Sc. thesis, Biology Department, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, N.B., Canada.Google Scholar
  3. Barrett, R. T.: 2001, ‘The breeding demography and egg size of North Norwegian Atlantic puffins Fratercula arctica and razorbills Alca torda during twenty years of climatic variability’, Atlantic Seabirds 3, 97–112.Google Scholar
  4. Barrett, R. T. and Krasnov, Y. V.: 1996, ‘Recent responses to changes in fish stocks of prey species by seabirds breeding in the southern Barents Sea’, ICES Jour. Mar. Sci. 53, 713–722.Google Scholar
  5. Bernard, L. B., Devlin, C. M. and Diamond, A. W.: 2000, ‘Machias Seal Island: Progress Report 1995–2000’, Unpublished report, Atlantic Cooperative Wildlife Ecology Research Network, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, N.B., Canada: also http://www.unb.ca/ web/ acwern/msireport/report.html.Google Scholar
  6. Bost, C. A., and LeMaho, Y.: 1993, ‘Seabirds as bio-indicators of changing marine ecosystems: new perspectives’, Acta Oecologica 14, 463–470.Google Scholar
  7. Burger, J.,and Gochfeld, M.: 2001, ‘Effects of chemicals and pollutants on seabirds’, in Schreiber, E. A. and Burger, J. (eds), Biology of marine birds, CRC Press, Roca Baton, FL, U.S.A., pp. 485–525.Google Scholar
  8. Cairns, D. K.: 1987, ‘Seabirds as indicators of marine food supplies’, Biol. Oceanogr. 5, 261–271.Google Scholar
  9. Cairns, D. K.: 1992, ‘Bridging the gap between ornithology and fisheries science: use of seabird data in stock assessment models’, Condor 94, 811–824.Google Scholar
  10. Chapdelaine, G., Diamond, A. W., Elliot, R. D. and Robertson, G. J.: 2001, Status and population trends of the Razorbill in North America. Canadian Wildlife Service Occasional Paper No. 105.Google Scholar
  11. Chardine, J. W.: 1999, ‘Population monitoring of seabirds in the Atlantic Region: strategies and priority actions for 2000–2004’, unpublished MS, Canadian Wildlife Service, Sackville, N.B., 16 pp.Google Scholar
  12. Clobert, J. and Lebreton, J.-D.: 1991, ‘Estimation of demographic parameters in bird populations,’ in Perrins, C. M., Lebreton, J.-D., and Hirons, G. J. M. (eds), Bird population studies: relevance to conservation and management, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 75–104.Google Scholar
  13. Croxall, J. P., McCann, T. S., Prince, P. A., and Rothery, P.: 1988, ‘Reproductive performance of seabirds and seals at South Georgia and Signy Islands, South Orkney Islands, 1976–1987: implications for southern monitoring studies’, in Sahrage, D. (ed.), Antarctic Ocean and resource availability, Springer Verlag, Berlin, pp. 516–533.Google Scholar
  14. Department of Fisheries and Oceans: 2001, Hydrographic database, Scotian Shelf/Gulf of Maine, http://www.mar.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/ocean/scotia/ssmap.html, April 2001.Google Scholar
  15. Devlin, C. M. and Diamond, A. W.: 2002, ‘Machias Seal Island: Progress Report 1995–2002’, Unpublished report, Atlantic Cooperative Wildlife Ecology Research Network, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, N.B., Canada.Google Scholar
  16. Diamond, A. W.: 1999, ‘Implications of the tern census on Machias Seal Island’, Bird Trends 7, 34–35.Google Scholar
  17. Diamond, A. W. and Robinson, D.: ‘Counting puffins with a lighthouse’, unpublished MS.Google Scholar
  18. Diamond, A. W., Devlin, C. M. and Amey, K. D.: 2002, ‘Machias Seal Island: guide to logistics and seabird monitoring protocols’, unpublished report, Atlantic Cooperative Wildlife Ecology Research Network, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, N.B., Canada.Google Scholar
  19. Drury, W. H.: 1973–74, ‘Population changes in New England seabirds’, Bird-Banding 44, 267–313; 45, 1–15.Google Scholar
  20. Dunn, E. K.: 1973, ‘Changes in the fishing ability of terns associated with windspeed and sea surface conditions’, Nature 244, 520–521.Google Scholar
  21. Dunn, E. K.: 1975, ‘The role of environmental factors in the growth of tern chicks’, J. Anim. Ecol. 44, 743–755.Google Scholar
  22. Furness, R. W.: 1978, ‘Energy requirements of seabird communities: a bio-energetic model’, J. Anim. Ecol. 47, 39–53.Google Scholar
  23. Furness, R. W. and Camphuysen, C. J.: 1997, ‘Seabirds as monitors of the marine environment’, ICES Jour. Mar. Sci. 54, 726–737.Google Scholar
  24. Furness, R. W. and Greenwood, J. J. D.: 1993, Birds as monitors of environmental change, Chapman and Hall, London, 356 pp.Google Scholar
  25. Gaston, A. J., Jones, I. L. and Noble, D. G.: 1988, ‘Monitoring Ancient Murrelet breeding populations’, Col. Waterbirds 11, 58–66.Google Scholar
  26. Grecian, D. and Diamond, A. W.: ‘Using radio telemetry to find concealed razorbill nests’. Unpublished MS.Google Scholar
  27. Harris, M. P. and Murray, S.: 1981, ‘Monitoring of puffin numbers at Scottish colonies’, Bird Study 28, 15–20.Google Scholar
  28. Hatch, J.: 2002, ‘Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)’, in: A. Poole & F. Gill (eds), ‘The Birds of North America’. The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, in press.Google Scholar
  29. Hatch, S. A., Kaiser, G. W., Kondratyev, A. Y. and Bird, G. V.: 1994, ‘A seabird monitoring program for the north Pacific’, Trans. 59th No. Amer. Wildl. & Natur. Res. Conf., 121–131.Google Scholar
  30. Hinds, H.: 1997, ‘Vascular plant flora of Machias Seal Island’, unpublished MS.Google Scholar
  31. Hunt, G. L. and Schneider, D. A.: 1987, ‘Scale dependent processes in the physical and biological environment of marine birds’, in Croxall, J. P., (ed.), Seabirds: feeding ecology and role in marine ecosystems, Cambridge, University Press, pp. 7–41.Google Scholar
  32. Iles, T. D. and Wood, R. J.: 1965, ‘The fat/water relationship in North Sea herring (Clupea harengus), and its possible significance’, J.Mar. Biol. Assoc. U.K. 45, 353–366.Google Scholar
  33. Johnsen, I., Erikstad, K. E. and Sather, B.-E.: 1994, ‘Regulation of parental investment in a long-lived seabird, the puffin Fratercula arctica: an experiment’, Oikos 71, 273–278.Google Scholar
  34. Kitaysky, A. S. and Golubova, E. G.: 2000, ‘Climate change causes contrasting trends in reproductive performance of planktivorous and piscivorous alcids’, J. Anim. Ecol. 69, 248–262.Google Scholar
  35. Klaassen, M.: 1994, ‘Growth and energetics of tern chicks from temperate and polar environments’, Auk 113, 525–544.Google Scholar
  36. Lowther, P. E., Diamond, A. W., Kress, S. W., Robertson, G. J., & Russell, K.: 2002, Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), in The Birds of North America, in press (A. Poole & F. Gill, Eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.Google Scholar
  37. Marzluff, J. M. and Sallabanks, R.: 1998, ‘Past approaches and future directions for avian conservation biology’, in J. M. Marzluff and R. Sallabanks (eds), Avian conservation: research and management, Island Press, Washington, D.C., pp. 5–14.Google Scholar
  38. Monaghan, P., Uttley, J. D., Burns, M. D., Thaine, C. and Blackwood, J.: 1989, ‘The relationship between food supply, reproductive effort and breeding success in Arctic terns Sterna paradisaea’, J. Anim. Ecol. 58, 261–274.Google Scholar
  39. Montevecchi, W. A.: 1993, ‘Birds as indicators of change in marine prey stocks’, in: R. W. Furness and J. J. D. Greenwood (eds), Birds as monitors of environmental change, Chapman and Hall, London, pp. 217–265.Google Scholar
  40. Montevecchi, W. A. and Berutti, A.: 1990, ‘Avian indication of pelagic fishery conditions in the southeast and northwest Atlantic’, In Acta XX Congressus Ornithologici, Christchurch, New Zealand, pp. 2246–2256.Google Scholar
  41. Montevecchi, W. A., Birt, V. L. and Cairns, D. K.: 1988, ‘Dietary changes of seabirds associated with local fisheries failures’, Biol. Oceanogr. 5, 153–161.Google Scholar
  42. National Climate Data Center: 2001, (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/), weather data for St. Stephen, N.B., Canada, 3 July 2001.Google Scholar
  43. Nisbet, I. C. T. 2002. Common Tern (Sterna hirundo). In The Birds of North America, (A. Poole & F. Gill, Eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.Google Scholar
  44. Paquet, J.: 2001, Time-budget flexibility of breeding Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea): an investigation of the behavioural buffer. M.Sc. thesis, Biology Dept., University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, N.B., Canada.Google Scholar
  45. Schreiber, R. W. and Schreiber, E. A.: 1984, ‘Central Pacific seabirds and the El Nino Southern Oscillation: 1982 to 1983 perspectives’, Science 225, 713–716.Google Scholar
  46. Weimerskirch, H.: 2001, ‘Seabird demography and its relationship with the marine environment’, in Schreiber, E. A. and Burger, J. (eds), Biology of marine birds, CRC Press, Roca Baton, FL, U.S.A., pp. 115–135.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • A.W. Diamond
    • 1
  • C.M. Devlin
    • 1
  1. 1.Atlantic Cooperative Wildlife Ecology Research Network, and Biology DepartmentUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada

Personalised recommendations