Effects of recent decreases in arctic sea ice on an ice-associated marine bird
Recent major reductions in summer arctic sea ice extent could be expected to be affecting the distributions and life histories of arctic marine biota adapted to living adjacent to sea ice. Of major concern are the effects of ice reductions, and associated increasing SST, on the most abundant forage fish in the Arctic, Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida), the primary prey for the region’s upper trophic level marine predators. The black guillemot (Cepphus grylle mandtii) is an ice-obligate diving seabird specializing in feeding on Arctic cod and has been studied annually since 1975 at a breeding colony in the western Beaufort Sea. The data set is one of the few allowing assessment of the response of an upper trophic marine predator to recent decadal changes in the region’s cryosphere. Analysis of oceanographic conditions north of the colony from 1975 to 2012 for the annual period when parents provision young (mid-July to early September), found no major regime shifts in ice extent or SST until the late 1990s with major decreases in ice and increases in SST in the first decade of the 21st Century. We examined decadal variation in late summer oceanographic conditions, nestling diet and success, and overwinter adult survival, comparing a historical period (1975–1984) with a recent (2003–2012) one. In the historical period sea ice retreated an average of 1.8 km per day from 15 July to 1 September to an average distance of 95.8 km from the colony, while in the recent period ice retreat averaged 9.8 km per day to an average distance of 506.9 km for the same time period. SST adjacent to the island increased an average of 2.9 C between the two periods. While Arctic cod comprised over 95% of the prey provided to nestlings in the historical period, in the recent period 80% of the years had seasonal decreases, with Arctic cod decreasing to <5% of the nestling diet, and nearshore demersals, primarily sculpin (Cottidae), comprising the majority of the diet. A five-fold increase in the rate of nestling starvation and reductions in nestling growth and fledging mass were associated with the shift from Arctic cod. Annual adult survival during the nonbreeding season (September–May), showed no significant difference between the two periods, indicating no major change in availability of Arctic cod or other prey in the wintering area in the Bering Sea. Our findings of a substantial decrease in Arctic cod availability in late summer in response to decreased ice extent and increasing SST have implications for the entire Arctic given the ongoing and predicted basin-wide reductions in sea ice.