Mechanisms by which marine heatwaves impact seabirds

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Marine heatwaves (MHWs) are characterized by periods of extreme warming of local to basin-scale marine habitat. Effects of MHWs on some seabirds (e.g. mass die-offs) are well documented, but mechanisms by which seabirds respond to MHWs remain poorly understood. Following from a symposium at the 3rd World Seabird Conference, this Theme Section presents recent research to address this knowledge gap. Studies included here spanned one or more MHW event, at spatial scales from individual seabird colonies to large marine ecosystems in subtropical, temperate, and polar oceans, and over timespans from months to decades. The findings summarized herein indicate that MHWs can affect seabirds directly by creating physiological heat stress that affects behavior or survival, or indirectly by disrupting seabird food webs, largely by altering metabolic rates in ectothermic prey species, leading to effects on their associated predators and prey. Four main mechanisms by which MHWs affect seabirds are (1) habitat modification, (2) physiological forcing, (3) behavioral responses, and (4) ecological processes or species interactions. Most seabird species have experienced limited effects from MHWs to date, owing to ecological and behavioral adaptations that buffer MHW effects. However, the intensity and frequency of MHWs is increasing due to global warming, and more seabird species may have difficulty coping with future heatwave events. Also, MHW impacts can persist for years after a MHW ends, so consequences of recent or future MHWs could continue to unfold over time for many long-lived seabird species.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Mechanisms by which marine heatwaves impact seabirds
Series title MEPS
DOI 10.3354/meps14625
Volume 737
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Inter-Research Science Publisher
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Ecosystems
Description 8 p.
First page 1
Last page 8
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