Where have all the petrels gone? Forty years (1978–2020) of Wilson’s Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) population dynamics at King George Island (Isla 25 de Mayo, Antarctica) in a changing climate

Numerous seabird species are experiencing population declines, and this trend is expected to continue or even accelerate in the future. To understand the effects of environmental change on seabird populations, long-term studies are vital, but rare. Here, we present over four decades (1978–2020) of population dynamic and reproductive performance data of Wilson’s Storm Petrels (Oceanites oceanicus) from King George Island (Isla 25 de Mayo), Antarctica. We determined temporal trends in population size, breeding output, and chick growth rates, and related interannual variation in these variables to various environmental variables. Our study revealed a decline of 90% in population size of Wilson’s Storm Petrels in two colonies, and considerable changes in breeding output and chick growth rates. Temporal changes in breeding demographics were linked to interannual environmental variation, either causing changes in food availability (particularly Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba) or in nest burrow accessibility due to snow blocking the entrance. With the expected rise in air and sea surface temperatures, the predicted increases in precipitation over the Antarctic Peninsula will likely lead to increased snowstorm prevalence. Additionally, the rising temperatures will likely reduce food availability due to reduced sea ice cover in the wintering grounds of Antarctic krill, or by changing phyto- and zooplankton community compositions. The ongoing environmental changes may thus lead to a further population decline, or at the very least will not allow the population to recover. Monitoring the population dynamics of Antarctic seabirds is vital to increase our understanding of climate change-induced changes in polar food webs.


Publication status:
Authors: Ausems, A.N.M.A., Kuepper, N.D., Archuby, D., Braun, C., Gębczyński, A.K., Gladbach, A., Hahn, S., Jadwiszczak, P., Kraemer, P., Libertelli, M.M., Lorenz, S., Richter, B., Ruß, A., Schmoll, T., Thorn, S., Turner, J. ORCIDORCID record for J. Turner, Wojczulanis-Jakubas, K., Jakubas, D., Quillfeldt, P.

On this site: John Turner
1 July, 2023
Polar Biology / 46
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