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Lingering impacts of the 2014-2016 northeast Pacific marine heatwave on seabird demography in Cook Inlet, Alaska (USA)

November 10, 2022

A protracted period (2014-2016) of anomalously warm water in the northeast Pacific Ocean precipitated an extensive die-off of common murres Uria aalge (hereafter ‘murres’) during 2015-2016, accompanied by reduced colony attendance and reproductive success of murres and black-legged kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla (‘kittiwakes’) starting in 2015. Most murres died of starvation following a large-scale reduction in abundance and quality of forage fish. To assess murre and kittiwake recovery following the marine heatwave, we monitored their demographics at 2 colonies (Chisik and Gull Islands) in Cook Inlet, Alaska (USA), from 2016 to 2019. Compared to historic data (1995-1999), we observed declines and increased variability in colony attendance and productivity across species and colonies, and predation was widespread. At Chisik, where food limitations were common during historic studies, both species experienced substantial population declines and reproductive failures in all 4 years (2016-2019) following the heatwave. At Gull, a typically productive colony during historic studies, murres failed to fledge chicks for 3 years (2016-2018) following the heatwave. By 2019, murre productivity recovered to about half that observed during historic studies (0.28 vs. 0.54 chicks per pair), but populations had declined by half. Kittiwake population size at Gull declined a quarter from historic counts, and reproduction alternated between complete breeding failures (2016/2018) and high productivity (2017/2019). These multi-year demographic impacts indicate lingering effects of the heatwave on kittiwakes and murres through forage fish depletion and increased predator disturbance, and possibly other stressors. It remains unknown whether populations can rebound to historic levels. If so, recovery would likely take decades.

Publication Year 2022
Title Lingering impacts of the 2014-2016 northeast Pacific marine heatwave on seabird demography in Cook Inlet, Alaska (USA)
DOI 10.3354/meps14177
Authors Sarah K. Schoen, Mayumi L. Arimitsu, Caitlin Elizabeth Marsteller, John F. Piatt
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Ecology Progress Series
Index ID 70238350
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB