Kittiwakes’ trans-Atlantic winter odyssey linked to breeding success
One of Britain’s best known seabirds winters on opposite sides of the Atlantic depending on whether its breeding attempt has been successful, according to new research published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The findings highlight previously unsuspected links between summer breeding performance and wintering distributions of kittiwakes.
The research team was led by Dr Maria Bogdanova from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) in conjunction with colleagues from CEH and Dr Richard Phillips from British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
The discovery of such patterns of segregated winter distributions is important for defining key wintering areas in declining species such as the kittiwake that are experiencing poor breeding seasons with increasing regularity.
The results show kittiwakes that experienced breeding failure left their colony earlier than successful breeders. Failed breeders then travelled over 3000km and wintered off Canada while their successful neighbours remained close to Britain. The two groups did not differ in the timing of return to the colony the following spring. However, over half the males from both groups made a previously undescribed long-distance journey out into the central Atlantic before the breeding season.
Lead author Dr Maria Bogdanova, an animal population ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said,
“Our results demonstrate important but previously poorly understood links between breeding performance and winter distribution, with significant implications for populations. It is fascinating that successful and unsuccessful pairs nesting only a few metres apart in the colony can be separated by thousands of kilometres in the winter.”
This study used a tiny instrument (1.4g) for tracking animal migration, known as a geolocator. During the 2007 breeding season, the team fitted 80 kittiwakes on the Isle of May NNR off the east coast of Scotland, with geolocators.
Geolocators were developed by BAS and have so far been used on animals such as geese, albatrosses, penguins and seals. They make regular recordings of light intensity, data which can be used to generate two geographical positions per day.
Co-author Dr Richard Phillips, seabird ecologist from BAS said,
“The development of these small and inexpensive loggers has made it possible to track the migrations of many birds of the same species. This has revealed a surprising degree of variation among different individuals in migration strategies, which in the case of the kittiwake is at least partly related to previous breeding success.”
Co-author Francis Daunt, a seabird ecologist also from CEH said,
“Kittiwakes have declined substantially in the last 25 years over much of their range. Conservation efforts to protect wintering grounds should consider that winter distributions may be shifting as breeding failure is becoming more common.”
Notes for editors
The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Maria I. Bogdanova, Francis Daunt, Mark Newell, Richard A. Phillips, Michael P. Harris and Sarah Wanless. Seasonal interactions in the black-legged kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla: links between breeding performance and winter distribution.
Scottish Natural Heritage kindly provided access to the Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR). Funding for the work was provided by NERC.
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