Synchronous Seabirds

Many seabird species around the UK are becoming increasingly affected by human activities, and we have observed breeding failures and decreases in population size at important breeding colonies. Though these species have different life histories, by nesting in similar locations and feeding on similar prey we might expect changes in their environment to affect multiple species in the same way. James Robinson used data collected by the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology to examine trends in seabird demography from 1986-2010 for his Masters thesis, under the supervision of Maria and Alfredo.

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Our research found evidence for synchrony in seabird demography, and specifically identified key years of exceptionally high or low performance – in breeding success and in growth rates – of the seabird group. Importantly, changes in sea surface temperature – linked to the abundance of sand eels, the main prey species of many seabirds – were also correlated with the species group demography. Our findings have important implications for the future of seabirds in a changing climate, and show that multiple species can respond similarly in years of extreme environmental variability.

Since completing this work, and publishing it in Ecology and Evolution, James has moved on to the University of Victoria, Canada, to do a PhD with Dr. Julia Baum. As a member of the Baum lab, he will be examining how we can use diversity measures and body size approaches to reveal the impacts of anthropogenic disturbances on Pacific reef fish communities.