Seabirds, marine food webs and impact of climate change on marine ecosystems
My research has been conducted mostly in the north Pacific and Atlantic oceans, with a focus on studies of seabird biology at colonies and ecological factors that influence seabird populations and distribution at sea. Research topics also include feeding ecology of seabirds (especially Auks), forage fish (such as capelin and sand lance), groundfish, marine mammals, food webs, oceanography, marine ecosystems; and threats to seabirds from climate change, heatwaves, overfishing, net bycatch, and oil spills.
1987-Present Sr Scientist, USGS Alaska Science Center, AK
1982-1987 Res. Assoc., Nfld. Inst. for Cold Ocean Sci., MUN, NL
1978-1981 Fish. Obs./Wildl. Biol., DFO Canada/MacLaren Marex, NL
1974-1977 Res. Asst., Chemistry & Biochemistry Departments, MUN, NL
Education and Certifications
Ph.D. 1987 Marine Biology, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland (MUN), Canada
B.Sc. (Honours) 1977 Biochemistry, MUN, Canada
Affiliations and Memberships*
Member (2021): Am. Assoc. Adv. Sci., Am. Ornith. Soc., Pac. Seabird Grp., Am. Fish. Soc.
Editorial, Boards, Panels and Offices
Editor, Marine Ecology Progress Series (2007-2021)
Assoc. Editor, The Auk (2006-2013)
Chairman (1993-1994), Pacific Seabird Group (Research and Conservation)
Board or Science Panel service to North Pacific Research Board (2004-2011), Sound Experience (2014-2018), CA Fish & Game Commission (2003-2006), NMFS Alaska Fisheries Science Center (2000-2002)
Board or Science Panel service to Steller Sea Lion Recovery Team Advisory Panel (1999-2001), Cook Inlet Keepers (1996-2003), Alaska Sea Life Center (1995-1999)
Affiliate Professor – U. Washington (UW, 2004-2020); Oregon State U. (OSU, 2011-2015), MUN (1992-1996)
Visiting Scholar – UW (1997-1998)
Invited Scholar - Norwegian Inst. Nature Res., Norway (1991)
Supervisor for 3 PhD, 13 MSc students at 9 univ. in the UK (Glasgow, Durham), Canada (MUN, U.Vic), & the U.S. (UW, U.Alaska, UCSC, OSU)
Ext. examiner for 6 PhD. & 2 MSc theses (CAN, US, AUS)
Honors and Awards
Lifetime Achievement Award (2016), Pacific Seabird Group
US DOI, Secretary, Award for Exceptional Service (1990)
US DOI, Secretary, Award for Extraordinary Contributions (2011)
USGS, Director, Certificate of Appreciation (2011)
USGS, Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Contributions (2006)
USGS, Special Act Service Award (1997)
USFS, Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Service (1997)
USGS Quality (Step) Awards (2) for Exceptional Performance
USGS/NBS/FWS Performance/Star Awards (24 during 1987-2020) for Outstanding Achievement
USFWS, Regional Director, Special Action Award (1990)
Science and Products
North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database
Use and History of the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD)
Tracking Data for Kittlitz's Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris)
Seabird Die-offs in Alaska
Condition of Forage Fish in Prince William Sound During the Marine Heatwave
Cook Inlet Seabird and Forage Fish Study
NPPSD Sampling Effort Maps
Harmful Algal Bloom Toxins in Alaska Seabirds
Seabirds and Forage Fish Ecology
Detecting Long-term Changes in Forage Fish Populations in Prince William Sound, Alaska
Terrestrial Influence on Glacial-Marine Food Webs
Seabird Diet Data Collected on Middleton Island, Gulf of Alaska
Gridded Seabird Density Estimates in Lower Cook Inlet, Alaska
Assessing the Status and Trends of Seabirds and Forage Fish in Lower Cook Inlet, Alaska
Tracking Data for Kittlitz's Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris)
Pelagic Forage Fish Distribution Abundance and Body Condition
North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD)
Kasatochi Crested and Least Auklet Survey Data, 1996-2016
Inshore Catch Data for Capelin (Mallotus villosus) in the Gulf of Alaska 1996-2017
Data Associated With Algal Toxin Testing of Common Murres (Uria aalge) and Forage Fish in Alaska, 2015-2017
Data from Common Murre Die-off Surveys and Necropsies Following the North Pacific Marine Heatwave, 2015-2016
Pacific Sand Lance Energy Density, Length, and Age, Prince William Sound, Alaska, 2012-2016
Biogeochemical Subsidies from Glacier Runoff into Alaska Coastal Marine Food Webs, Gulf of Alaska, 2012-2013
Joint spatiotemporal models to predict seabird densities at sea
Lingering impacts of the 2014-2016 northeast Pacific marine heatwave on seabird demography in Cook Inlet, Alaska (USA)
African penguins and localized fisheries management: Response to Butterworth and Ross-Gillespie
Another bad year for seabirds on Gull Island
Kittlitz’s murrelet seasonal distribution and post-breeding migration from the Gulf of Alaska to the Arctic Ocean
South Africa's experimental fisheries closures and recovery of the endangered African penguin
Integrating seabird dietary and groundfish stock assessment data: Can puffins predict pollock spawning stock biomass in the North Pacific?
Monitoring the recovery of seabirds and forage fish following a major ecosystem disruption in Lower Cook Inlet
Ecosystem response persists after a prolonged marine heatwave
Reduced quality and synchronous collapse of forage species disrupts trophic transfer during a prolonged marine heatwave
Heatwave-induced synchrony within forage fish portfolio disrupts energy flow to top pelagic predators
Science and Products
North Pacific Pelagic Seabird DatabaseThe North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD) contains survey transect data designed and conducted by numerous partners primarily to census seabirds at sea. The NPPSD includes more than 489,000 transect segments and includes observations of nearly 21 million birds of 252 species collected over the span of 50 years (from 1973 to 2022).
Use and History of the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD)Data on the distribution and abundance of seabirds at sea have been used for many decades to assist in understanding the marine ecology of seabirds away from their breeding colonies, measure population status and trends, assess the impact of human activities on ocean habitats and fish stocks, and to identify critical marine habitats for seabirds.
Tracking Data for Kittlitz's Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris)Available here are tracking data for the Kittlitz’s murrelet, a rare seabird species that nests solitarily on the ground in barren, often alpine areas near the North Pacific and Bering Sea.
Seabird Die-offs in AlaskaBeginning in 2015, large numbers of dead seabirds have been appearing on beaches in most marine areas of Alaska. Although seabird die-offs are known to occur sporadically (e.g. 1970, 1989, 1993, 1997/1998, and 2004) in Alaska, these recent die-offs have been distinguished from past events by their increased frequency, duration, geographic extent, and number of different species involved.
Condition of Forage Fish in Prince William Sound During the Marine HeatwaveChanges in the body condition of a key forage fish species, Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes personatus), are examined to understand how energy transfer to predators may have been disrupted during the recent marine heatwave in the North Pacific (late 2013 to mid 2016).
Cook Inlet Seabird and Forage Fish StudyA massive die-off of Common Murres was documented in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) during the fall and winter of 2015-2016 in association with a record-breaking marine heat wave in the GOA.
NPPSD Sampling Effort MapsMaps showing the sampling extent in the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD).
Harmful Algal Bloom Toxins in Alaska SeabirdsElevated ocean temperatures are linked to the development of harmful algal blooms (HABs). Toxins from these blooms may pose health threats to marine organisms, including seabirds. Since 2015, the USGS has worked with a variety of stakeholders to develop testing methods and research projects to better understand the geographic extent, timing and impacts of algal toxins in Alaska marine ecosystems...
Seabirds and Forage Fish EcologyAlaska's coastal and offshore waters provide foraging habitat for an estimated 100 million birds comprising more than 90 different species; from loons and seaducks that nest inland, to petrels and puffins that breed on islands off shore. All these birds depend on the sea to provide a wide variety of food types— from clams, crabs and urchins nearshore— to krill, forage fish, and squid offshore. The...
Detecting Long-term Changes in Forage Fish Populations in Prince William Sound, AlaskaForage fish are small pelagic schooling fish that play a key role in transferring energy between plankton and top marine predators. Many seabirds, marine mammals, and commercial fish species depend on forage fish to grow and survive.
Terrestrial Influence on Glacial-Marine Food WebsWhere glaciers meet the sea in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA), they create unique and productive marine habitats. Ringed by the continent’s tallest coastal mountains, 20% of the GOA coastal watershed is covered by glacial ice and the annual freshwater discharge into the GOA from glacial melt is comparable to that of the Mississippi river.
Seabird Diet Data Collected on Middleton Island, Gulf of AlaskaThese data are part of the Gulf Watch Alaska (GWA) long-term monitoring program and contain diet data from Black-legged Kittiwakes (BLKI), Rhinoceros Auklets (RHAU), and Tufted puffins (TUPU) located on Middleton Island in Prince William Sound, Gulf of Alaska. The first table consists of information on seabird diet samples including the sampling method and number of prey types identified per sampl
Gridded Seabird Density Estimates in Lower Cook Inlet, AlaskaThis data set provides monthly (March-October) gridded density estimates for seabirds in lower Cook Inlet, Alaska. Gridded density estimates were produced by applying spatiotemporal modeling of at-sea survey data collected between 1975 and 2021 of seabird at-sea surveys available in the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD; Drew and Piatt 2015). We modeled joint dynamic species distributi
Assessing the Status and Trends of Seabirds and Forage Fish in Lower Cook Inlet, AlaskaThis data release is composed of six datasets regarding colonial seabirds and forage fish at two seabird nesting colonies on Gull and Chisik Islands in lower Cook Inlet, Alaska. These data were collected to detect changes in the breeding population of Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Murres on two nesting colonies in lower Cook Inlet and to compare those counts to baseline counts from 1995-1999.
Tracking Data for Kittlitz's Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris)This metadata document describes the data contained in the "rawData" folder of this data package. This data package contains all data collected by the Argos System from 47 satellite transmitters attached to Kittlitz's Murrelets captured along the north Gulf of Alaska, during May-July 2009-2015. Five data files are included in the "rawData" folder of this data package. Two data files (with identica
Pelagic Forage Fish Distribution Abundance and Body ConditionMonitoring long-term changes in forage fish distribution, abundance and body condition in the Prince William Sound 2012-2019.
North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD)The North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD) is maintained by the USGS Alaska Science Center and includes survey transect data designed and conducted by numerous partners primarily to census seabirds at sea. The data provided here relate to observations of marine birds and mammals observed during at-sea surveys throughout the North Pacific including the Arctic Ocean, Beufort Sea, Chukchi Sea
Kasatochi Crested and Least Auklet Survey Data, 1996-2016Crested (Aethia cristatella) and Least Auklets (Aethia pusilla) are crevice-nesting birds that breed in large mixed colonies at relatively few sites in the Aleutian Chain, Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and Sea of Okhotsk. Time-lapse imagery of nesting habitat was collected over the summers of 2010, 2012, and 2013 to assess use of the primary pre-eruption colony site. At-sea surveys collected relative
Inshore Catch Data for Capelin (Mallotus villosus) in the Gulf of Alaska 1996-2017These data consist of larval (less than 60 mm) and age-1+ (greater than 60 mm) Capelin CPUE (Catch per unit effort) from various catch efforts throughout the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) from 1996 - 2017. The dataset contains the following information: fishing gear type, date, time, catch location (latitude and longitude), tow distance, number of capelin caught, and CPUE for capelin greater than and less
Data Associated With Algal Toxin Testing of Common Murres (Uria aalge) and Forage Fish in Alaska, 2015-2017This data set is comprised of two tables with results of algal toxin screening for saxitoxin and domoic acid. We used enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to screen seabirds, forage fish, and marine invertebrates from the Gulf of Alaska, 2015-2017.
Data from Common Murre Die-off Surveys and Necropsies Following the North Pacific Marine Heatwave, 2015-2016These data are in two tables relating to a die-off of Common Murres in the north Pacific, 2015-2016. The tables provide: 1) beach survey locations, date, time, distance surveyed (kilometers), and number of Common Murre carcasses observed during surveys conducted along the coastline of Alaska to document the 2015-2016 die-off of Common Murres coincident with the North Pacific marine heatwave, and 2
Pacific Sand Lance Energy Density, Length, and Age, Prince William Sound, Alaska, 2012-2016This data set documents the age, length, dry mass energy density, and dry mass of age-0 and age-1 Pacific sand lance captured in Prince William Sound Alaska each July from 2012 to 2016. The analysis of this data was published in von Biela et al. 2019 (doi:10.3354/meps12891).
Biogeochemical Subsidies from Glacier Runoff into Alaska Coastal Marine Food Webs, Gulf of Alaska, 2012-2013To demonstrate connectivity between terrestrial and marine ecosystems, we used stable (#948;13C, #948;15N, #948;2H) and radiogenic (#8710;14C) isotopes to estimate the relative contribution of glacier runoff and terrestrial-derived organic matter (OM) to marine food webs. This dataset contains information on isotopic signatures from dissolved organic matter (DOM), dissolved inorganic matter (DIC)
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Joint spatiotemporal models to predict seabird densities at seaIntroduction: Seabirds are abundant, conspicuous members of marine ecosystems worldwide. Synthesis of distribution data compiled over time is required to address regional management issues and understand ecosystem change. Major challenges when estimating seabird densities at sea arise from variability in dispersion of the birds, sampling effort over time and space, and differences in bird detectio
Lingering impacts of the 2014-2016 northeast Pacific marine heatwave on seabird demography in Cook Inlet, Alaska (USA)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 r
African penguins and localized fisheries management: Response to Butterworth and Ross-GillespieWe present a response to Butterworth and Ross-Gillespie's (2022) comment on our perspectives on how forage fish fisheries are impacting the endangered African penguin (Sphenicus demersus), and corresponding management options. Butterworth and Ross-Gillespie overstate model uncertainties and downplay the clear ecological and conservation significance of the fisheries closure experiment. We demonstr
Another bad year for seabirds on Gull IslandThe USGS monitored Black-legged Kittiwake and Common Murre populations on Gull Island from 1995-1999, and from 2016-2021, following the 2014-2016 northeast Pacific marine heatwave. USGS research, which is supported by the USGS and BOEM, includes population monitoring, and quantifying breeding success and predator disturbances. This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revisi
Kittlitz’s murrelet seasonal distribution and post-breeding migration from the Gulf of Alaska to the Arctic OceanKittlitz’s Murrelets (Brachyramphus brevirostris) nest during summer in glaciated or recently deglaciated (post-Wisconsin) landscapes. They forage in adjacent marine waters, especially those influenced by glacial meltwater. Little is known of their movements and distribution outside the breeding season. To identify post-breeding migrations of murrelets, we attached satellite transmitters to birds
South Africa's experimental fisheries closures and recovery of the endangered African penguinIn a scientifically-transformative project, South Africa implemented a decade-long field experiment to understand how fisheries may be affecting its most iconic seabird, the African penguin Spheniscus demersus. This unique effort prohibits the take of anchovy and sardine within relatively small areas around four African penguin breeding colonies, two in the Benguela upwelling ecosystem and two in
Integrating seabird dietary and groundfish stock assessment data: Can puffins predict pollock spawning stock biomass in the North Pacific?Information on the annual variability in abundance and growth of juvenile groundfish can be useful for predicting fisheries stocks, but is often poorly known owing to difficulties in sampling fish in their first year of life. In the Western Gulf of Alaska (WGoA) and Eastern Bering Sea (EBS) ecosystems, three species of puffin (tufted and horned puffin, Fratercula cirrhata, Fratercula corniculata,
Monitoring the recovery of seabirds and forage fish following a major ecosystem disruption in Lower Cook InletFollowing the North Pacific marine heatwave of 2014-2016 and associated extreme die-off of seabirds in the winter of 2015-2016, we repeated historical marine bird and forage fish surveys around two seabird colonies (Gull Island, Chisik Island) in lower Cook Inlet during 2016-2019 in order to document immediate and lingering impacts of the heatwave on resident fish and seabird populations. At sea,
Ecosystem response persists after a prolonged marine heatwaveSome of the longest and most comprehensive marine ecosystem monitoring programs were established in the Gulf of Alaska following the environmental disaster of the Exxon Valdez oil spill over 30 years ago. These monitoring programs have been successful in assessing recovery from oil spill impacts, and their continuation decades later has now provided an unparalleled assessment of ecosystem response
Reduced quality and synchronous collapse of forage species disrupts trophic transfer during a prolonged marine heatwaveThe Gulf of Alaska forage fish community includes a few key species that differ markedly in their timing of spawning, somatic growth and lipid storage, and in their migration behavior. This diversity in life history strategies facilitates resilience in marine food webs because it buffers predators against the naturally high variance in abundance of pelagic forage fish populations by decreasing the
Heatwave-induced synchrony within forage fish portfolio disrupts energy flow to top pelagic predatorsDuring the Pacific marine heatwave of 2014–2016, abundance and quality of several key forage fish species in the Gulf of Alaska were simultaneously reduced throughout the system. Capelin (Mallotus catervarius), sand lance (Ammodytes personatus), and herring (Clupea pallasii) populations were at historically low levels, and within this community abrupt declines in portfolio effects identify trophic
Seabird synthesisOverall, the status of seabirds was fair to good in the WGOA in 2020, with limited data available from Middleton Island, Cook Inlet, and the Kodiak Archipelago (Figure 63). Colony attendance remains low in some populations compared to historic levels, and some colonies were newly abandoned. However, when birds did arrive to breed, reproductive success generally appeared fair to good for fish-eatin
*Disclaimer: Listing outside positions with professional scientific organizations on this Staff Profile are for informational purposes only and do not constitute an endorsement of those professional scientific organizations or their activities by the USGS, Department of the Interior, or U.S. Government