Browsing College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences by Author "Gall, Adrian E."
Influence of physical and biological oceanography on the structure of the seabird community in the northeastern Chukchi SeaGall, Adrian E.; Blanchard, Amy L.; Weingartner, Thomas J.; Mathis, Jeremy T.; Hopcroft, Russell R.; Day, Robert H. (2015-12)The Chukchi Sea is losing seasonal ice cover as global temperatures rise, facilitating human access to the region for activities such as oil and gas exploration, shipping, and tourism. Processes and responses to environmental change by marine ecosystems are often challenging to quantify because they are hidden under water. Seabirds, however, offer visible evidence of the health and status of marine ecosystems. I studied the community structure, variability in abundance and distribution, and habitat associations of seabirds in the eastern Chukchi Sea. My results provide insights into the influence of climate change on seabirds and a benchmark against which to evaluate possible impacts of anthropogenic activity. Repeated sampling of systematic transects in the northeastern Chukchi Sea during the ice-free seasons of 2008-2012 showed that the community consisted of ~40 species and was dominated numerically by planktivorous seabirds, particularly Crested Auklets (Aethia cristatella) and Short-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris). In contrast, benthic-feeding birds were rare. The abundance of seabirds in the offshore northeastern Chukchi Sea varied by up to two orders of magnitude among years and birds generally were more abundant in September than August. Despite these seasonal and interannual variations in abundance, the species composition was similar among years, with anomalies occurring only in years of persistent ice cover. I compared data from this recent period (2008-2012) with data from historical surveys (1975-1981) to evaluate decadal trends in seabird abundance and composition and related those changes to reductions in seasonal ice cover. The seabird community shifted from one consisting primarily of piscivorous seabirds to one consisting primarily of planktivorous seabirds. This shift suggests that zooplankton prey are more accessible now to avian predators as seasonal ice cover has declined. I explored the relationships between seabirds, hydrography, and zooplankton abundance with spatially explicit generalized additive models. The associations of seabirds with habitat characteristics varied with foraging method and preferred prey. Species that fed primarily by pursuit diving were more abundant in warm, weakly stratified water, whereas surface-feeding species were more abundant in cold, strongly stratified water. Planktivorous seabirds (auklets, shearwaters, and phalaropes) were more abundant within 20 km of thermal surface fronts and in contrast, omnivores (gulls and murres) were more abundant far from thermal fronts. For 5 of the 8 seabird species, information about prey biomass improved predictions of seabird abundance, although the relationships were not as clear as they were for the physical habitat characteristics indicative of processes that aggregate prey. Advective processes that transport oceanic species of zooplankton from the Bering Sea to the Chukchi Sea, together with the local influence of sea ice on physical and biological processes, strongly influence the distribution of seabirds, particularly the planktivorous species. Scientists and decision-makers can use the results of this multi-species and multi-disciplinary study as a benchmark to assess the ecological consequences of anthropogenic activity against the backdrop of climate change that is affecting the Chukchi Sea.