Influence of pycnocline topography and water-column structure on marine distributions of alcids (Aves: Alcidae) in Anadyr Strait, Northern Bering Sea, Alaska

Marine Biology



Systematic ship-board surveys were used to simultaneously record seabird abundances and resolve coarse-scale (3 to 10 km) horizontal and fine-scale (1 to 10 m) vertical variability in water-column structure and bathymetry for portions of the coastal zone in Anadyr Strait near western St. Lawrence Island, northern Bering Sea, Alaska, during August and September 1987. Three plankton-feeding alcids, parakeet (Cyclorrhynchus psittacula), crested (Aethia cristatella) and least (A. pusilla) auklets, each exhibited distinct associations for different pycnocline characteristics. Least auklets were more abundant in mixed water, but they also occurred within stratified water where the pycnocline and upper-mixed layer were shallow (≤8 m) and thin (≤10 m), respectively. Low body mass (85 g), high buoyancy, and relatively poor diving ability may have restricted this auklet to areas where water-column strata nearly intersected the surface, or to areas from which strata were absent altogether due to strong vertical mixing. Parakeet and crested auklets, which are larger-bodied (ca. 260 g) planktivores with presumably greater diving ability, were more abundant in stratified water, and both species exhibited less specific affinities for water-column characteristic at intermediate and shallow levels. All three auklets avoided locations with strong pycnocline gradients (≤0.22σtm−1), a crude index of the strong, subsurface shear in water velocities characteristic of this region. Auklet distributions in Anadyr Strait were consistent with: (1) strata accessibility, as estimated from relationships between body mass and relative diving ability, (2) possible avoidance of strong subsurface water motions, and (3) habits and distributions of plankton prey. In contrast, largebodied (>450 g) alcids [i.e., common (Uria aalge) and thick-billed (U. lomvia) murres, pigeon guillemots (Cephus columba), tufted (Fratercula cirrhata), and horned (F. corniculata) puffins feeding on fish or benthic invertebrates] showed no consistent relationships with either the pycnocline or upper-mixed layers. All large alcids were more common in stratified than in vertically-mixed waters, but differences in abundance between mixing regimes were small or equivocal. The only measured variable with which all large alcids were associated was total water-column depth: murres, guillemots, and puffins each used areas with shallow sea floors and avoided areas with deeper sea floors. Failure of large alcids to discriminate among foraging areas in Anadyr Strait as a function of pycnocline topography and strength may be attributable to: (1) greater reliance on large pelagic and benthic prey not associated with the pycnocline; (2) higher body mass, lower buoyancy, and greater diving ability; (3) foraging over a uniquely shallow continental shelf where all vertical strata, including the sea floor, are potentially accessible from the ocean surface.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Influence of pycnocline topography and water-column structure on marine distributions of alcids (Aves: Alcidae) in Anadyr Strait, Northern Bering Sea, Alaska
Series title Marine Biology
DOI 10.1007/BF01344361
Volume 110
Issue 3
Year Published 1991
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 17 p.
First page 419
Last page 435
Country Russia, United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Anadyr Strait, Bering Sea, St. Lawrence Island
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