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Survival of Atlantic Puffins positively correlated with herring availability

Posted on 13. November, 2013.

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Atlantic Herring is a keystone species in several marine ecosystems, supporting intensive fisheries as well as many predators including seabirds. Biomass of this stock in eastern North America has declined considerably in recent years, potentially putting at risk populations of its predators. Although adult survival in seabirds is considered robust to moderate changes in food availability, it is also the life-history component most critical to sustaining populations of long-lived birds.

To investigate the possibility that Atlantic Puffin survival has been affected by reduced abundance of its main prey, scientists analysed the encounter histories of 2999 Atlantic Puffins ringed on Machias Seal Island to estimate annual adult survival for the years 1999–2011. The results were published online in Ibis.

The researchers found a concurrent decline in adult Puffin survival and fishery landings of Herring since the early 1990s. This reinforces concern for the health of the population of Herring, a keystone forage fish in this region, and of the community of marine predators in the Gulf of Maine that rely on Herring for their survival and reproduction.

The full article “Annual survival of adult Atlantic Puffins Fratercula arctica is positively correlated with Herring Clupea harengus availability” by A.R. Breton and A.W. Diamond, is published in Ibis, doi: 10.1111/ibi.12100.

Photo: Atlantic puffin. Photo courtesy of the Petit Manan National Willdife Refuge, Maine.

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