A view from above: changing seas, seabirds and food sources

Michael Heath, M. Edwards, R. Furness, J. Pinnegar, S. Wanless

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In this review we summarize what is known about mechanisms by which climate change may be affecting the populations of seabirds around the UK. Breeding success and adult survival are the key factors affecting changes in seabird populations, and food intake is implicated as a major determinant of both. The diet of most UK seabird species is almost exclusively sandeels, small clupeoid fish or zooplankton and it is clear that the marine pelagic food web is the key ecological system determining food supply. Hence, we develop the review by first considering how climate changes may affect primary production, and then examine how this propagates through the food web to zooplankton and fish culminating in fluctuations in seabird numbers.
A trend of increasing numbers of many seabird species since 1970, particularly puffins, guillemots and razorbills, appears to have been reversed since 2000. The proximate cause of the recent declines seems to be a succession of 5 years of low breeding success for a range of species due to a shortage of food, especially sandeels. However, the connection with climate change remains uncertain, though there are indications that declines in the productivity of sandeel populations may be linked in some complex way to warming sea temperatures. The main conclusion is that no part of the marine food web, including fisheries, can be considered in isolation when trying to understand and predict the consequences of climate change for seabirds. Impacts can be expected in all parts of the system, and all parts of the system are interconnected.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEcosystem Linkages report Card 2009
EditorsJ.M. Baxter, P.J. Buckley, M.T. Frost
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • climate change
  • seabirds


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