Seabirds encounter natural changes in the ocean environment

Ancient Murrelets. Credit: Daniel Donnecke

(Spike Millington; March 13, 2017)

Seabirds encounter natural changes in the ocean environment, such as El Nino events that can affect the currents and bring warm or cold water, which in turn affect the distribution and abundance of prey species, such as fish and squid. However, the risk with global climate change is that such events become less predictable and possibly more regular, so that ability of seabird species to adapt can be affected, both in the short-term and long-term. This massive die-off of Common Murres (Guillemots) was due to unusually warm water temperatures affecting the birds’ food supply. If good conditions return, the seabirds can perhaps compensate with good breeding success and numbers can recover in the short-term. In the long-term however, the impacts of climate change-induced conditions are far from certain, requiring long-term monitoring to be able to assess patterns of response.