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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Breeding failures and reduced nest attendance in response to heat stress in a high-latitude seabird

Olin, Agnes; Dück, Lovisa; Berglund, Per-Arvid; Karlsson, Erika; Bohm, Moa; Olsson, Olof; Hentati-Sundberg, Jonas


Climate change research on seabirds has so far focused mainly on indirect effects acting via impacts at lower trophic levels. However, seabirds that breed in exposed sites may also be vulnerable to direct impacts from extreme weather events such as heatwaves, which are projected to increase in both severity and frequency with climate change. Yet there are relatively few field studies of how breeding seabirds respond to heatwaves. Here, we used video footage from a breeding colony of common guillemots Uria aalge in the Baltic Sea over 4 consecutive breeding seasons (2019-2022) to explore responses to air temperature and sun exposure. We found a positive relationship between temperature and 2 thermoregulatory behaviours: panting and postural changes. In addition, we show that as temperatures increase, breeding partners spend less time together at the colony. At the highest temperatures, some birds even temporarily abandon their eggs and chicks. Of 48 breeding failures recorded on video over 4 breeding seasons, we documented 13 cases directly associated with heat stress (corresponding to ca. 9% of all 150 breeding attempts recorded); 11 of these occurred during 2 periods with sunshine and particularly high temperatures in 2020 and 2022. Using a larger data set (>500 breeding attempts over 12 seasons), we also identified a clear increase in the probability of egg loss at higher temperatures. As such, the responses of breeding seabirds to heatwaves could have important demographic consequences in some populations, especially as heatwaves continue to increase in frequency and magnitude.


Heatwaves; Seabirds; Heat stress; Thermoregulation; Climate change

Published in

Marine Ecology Progress Series
2024, Volume: 737, pages: 147-160