Annual and seasonal movements of migrating short-tailed shearwaters reflect environmental variation in sub-Arctic and Arctic waters
The marine ecosystems of the Bering Sea and adjacent southern Chukchi Sea are experiencing rapid changes due to recent reductions in sea ice. Short-tailed shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris visit this region in huge numbers between the boreal summer and autumn during non-breeding season, and represent one of the dominant top predators. To understand the implications for this species of ongoing environmental change in the Pacific sub-Arctic and Arctic seas, we tracked the migratory movements of 19 and 24 birds in 2010 and 2011, respectively, using light-level geolocators. In both years, tracked birds occupied the western (Okhotsk Sea and Kuril Islands) and eastern (southeast Bering Sea) North Pacific from May to July. In August–September of 2010, but not 2011, a substantial proportion (68 % of the tracked individuals in 2010 compared to 38 % in 2011) moved through the Bering Strait to feed in the Chukchi Sea. Based on the correlation with oceanographic variables, the probability of shearwater occurrence was highest in waters with sea surface temperatures (SSTs) of 8–10 °C over shallow depths. Furthermore, shearwaters spent more time flying when SST was warmer than 9 °C, suggesting increased search effort for prey. We hypothesized that the northward shift in the distribution of shearwaters may have been related to temperature-driven changes in the abundance of their dominant prey, krill (Euphausiacea), as the timing of krill spawning coincides with the seasonal increase in water temperature. Our results indicate a flexible response of foraging birds to ongoing changes in the sub-Arctic and Arctic ecosystems.