Inter-year differences in survival of Atlantic puffins Fratercula arctica are not associated with winter distribution

Miniature geolocator loggers (Global Location Sensing, GLS) that provide daily locations of birds have revolutionised the study of winter ecology and migration patterns of seabirds. A long-term study of ringing recoveries and analyses of heavy metals and pollutants in tissues of Atlantic puffins Fratercula arctica from the Isle of May, south-east Scotland, suggested that this population wintered mainly within the North Sea. However, deployment of GLS devices over the 2007/2008 winter showed that many breeding birds made major excursions into the east Atlantic. This winter was the second of two when survival was extremely low (survival in 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 was 0.696 and 0.695, respectively, compared to the average of 0.922 over the period 1984/1985–2005/2006). These low rates of survival suggested that the unexpected use of the Atlantic might have been associated with unusually poor conditions in the North Sea as indicated by very low breeding success in 2007. Survival rate returned to previous levels in 2008/2009 providing the opportunity to test whether higher survival was associated with birds remaining in the North Sea, or whether movements into the Atlantic are a feature of this population unrelated to survival. Accordingly, geolocators were deployed over the 2009/2010 winter when adult survival was subsequently established to be high (0.913). We found greater support for the hypothesis that winter distribution is not associated with survival. Thus, 8 (40 %) of 20 individuals followed in 2009/2010 went into the Atlantic, a rate not significantly different from 11 (58 %) of the 19 followed in the 2007/2008 winter. Indeed, birds actually spent longer in the Atlantic and used a wider variety of areas in 2009/2010, although the time spent away from the colony was significantly shorter than in 2007/2008. Since our data were from individuals that survived, remaining in or moving out of the North Sea can both be successful strategies during winters when the population as a whole shows either high or low survival rates. Unfortunately, we do not know where birds that died had gone, and hence, the relative survival of birds that did or did not move into the Atlantic. Determining the link between survival and wintering area for any seabird remains a formidable challenge and will have to await the development of technologies that can determine both where and when birds die.


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Authors: Harris, Michael P., Daunt, Francis, Bogdanova, Maria I., Lahoz-Monfort, José J., Newell, Mark A., Phillips, Richard A., Wanless, Sarah

On this site: Richard Phillips
1 November, 2013
Marine Biology / 160
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