Distributional shifts among seabird communities of the Northern Bering and Chukchi seas in response to ocean warming during 2017–2019
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Distributional shifts among seabird communities of the Northern Bering and Chukchi seas in response to ocean warming during 2017–2019

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  • Journal Title:
    Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
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    In the northern Bering Sea and eastern Chukchi Sea, 2017–2019 were record-breaking years for warm ocean temperatures and lack of sea ice. The region supports millions of seabirds that could be affected by shifts in prey distribution and availability caused by changing environmental drivers. However, seabirds are highly mobile and often flexible in diet, and might alter their foraging distributions accordingly. To determine if there was evidence of long-term changes in abundance of seabirds, or if seabirds used the offshore habitat differently during recent warm years, we compared species richness, community composition, and distribution and abundance of selected species and Total seabirds (all species combined) between two periods, 2007–2016 and 2017–2019. We also evaluated annual changes in abundance during 2007–2019. We used 79,426 km of transects from vessel-based surveys conducted July through September. Total seabird density for the entire study area increased by ~20% during 2017–2019, but changes were not consistent across the study area, nor among species, and species richness declined except for a slight increase in the northern Chukchi Sea. Total seabird density declined most in the northern Bering Sea (−27%), although it increased in the Chirikov Basin by 73%. During 2017–2019, abundance of piscivorous murres (Uria spp.) decreased everywhere, whereas planktivorous Aethia auklet density increased by 70% in Chirikov Basin; auklets apparently abandoned their post-breeding migration to the Chukchi Sea. Short-tailed shearwaters (Ardenna tenuirostris) expanded farther into the northern Chukchi Sea, with nearly twice the density of the previous decade. We identified five seabird community types, three of which (all dominated by an alcid species) contracted spatially in the later period, and shifted south or near colonies. In contrast, a short-tailed shearwater dominated community expanded northward, and a community defined by low seabird density expanded throughout the eastern portion of both the northern Bering and Chukchi seas, suggesting higher-density communities had shifted westward. The variable responses among species correspond to documented changes in the environment as well as their natural history.
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    Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, 181-182, 104913
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    Accepted Manuscript
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