Dee Boersma, UW Biology Professor and Director of the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, co-authored a new study published in Science showing that many seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere are struggling to breed — and in the Southern Hemisphere, they may not be far behind. Many scientists view seabirds as sentinels of habitat health because their lives and well-being depend on sound conditions both on land and at sea. Dee provided more than 35 years of data on breeding success at Punta Tombo, a site with one of the largest breeding colonies for Magellanic penguins in southern Argentina.
The international team of scientists — led by William Sydeman at the Farallon Institute in California — discovered that reproductive success decreased in the past half century for fish-eating seabirds north of the equator. The Northern Hemisphere has suffered greater impacts from human-caused climate change and other human activities, like overfishing.
Seabirds include albatrosses, puffins, murres, penguins and other birds. Whether they soar or swim, all seabirds are adapted to feed in and live near ocean waters. Many scientists view seabirds as sentinels of habitat health because their lives and well-being depend on sound conditions both on land and at sea, said co-author P. Dee Boersma, a University of Washington professor of biology and director of the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels.
“Seabirds travel long distances — some going from one hemisphere to the other — chasing their food in the ocean,” said Boersma. “This makes them very sensitive to changes in things like ocean productivity, often over a large area.”
In addition, seabirds congregate at particular sites along coasts to breed and rear their young, which makes them vulnerable to changing shore and surface conditions and restricts how far they can travel for food while still successfully raising their chicks, Boersma added.
Read the full story in UW News.
Bonus: See related stories in Scientific American and The Independent.