Timing of sea-ice retreat affects where birds are found

The Bering Sea has highly variable sea ice extent in winter, which can be used to tease out the effects of future climate change on marine animals such as seabirds. In a new study, SAFS professor George Hunt and coauthors examined how seabirds change location in years when sea ice melts earlier in the year. In these years, seabirds that feed far from land tend to come closer inshore, while seabirds that feed closer to shore move further offshore. Furthermore, in warm years, small zooplankton experience changes in their growth and reproduction, which brings more young, abundant, pollock into surface waters where they can be eaten by seabirds. In the future holding warmer waters, seabirds may rely more heavily on young pollock, which has less nutritional value than other prey items. The work was published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

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