Assessing the vulnerability of the marine bird community in the western North Sea to climate change and other anthropogenic impacts

TitleAssessing the vulnerability of the marine bird community in the western North Sea to climate change and other anthropogenic impacts
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsBurthe, SJ, Wanless, S, Newell, MA, Butler, A, Daunt, F
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Date Published07/2014
Keywordsdemography, European Birds Directive, fisheries, global warming, marine renewables, resilience, seabird, SST

Ocean warming and anthropogenic activities such as fishing, shipping and marine renewable developments are affecting marine top predators. Research has focussed on the impacts of single stressors on single species, yet understanding cumulative effects of multiple stressors on communities is vital for effective conservation management. We studied a marine bird community (45 species; 11 families) that used the Forth and Tay region of the North Sea for breeding, overwintering or migration between 1980 and 2011. Local sea surface temperature (SST) increased significantly over this period, with concomitant changes in lower trophic levels. Simultaneously, the region has been subject to fishing pressure and shipping disturbance and is a priority area for renewable energy developments. We used colony-based and at-sea data to quantitatively assess relationships between SST and counts, productivity and survival of 25 species for which sufficient data were available for analysis. For the remaining species, we applied a qualitative approach using published population trends, published climate relationships and foraging sensitivity. In total, 53% of species showed negative relationships with SST. Trends in counts and demography were combined with climate vulnerability to give an index of population concern to future climate warming, and 44% of species were classified as high or very high concern, notably cormorants, grebes, skuas, shearwaters, terns and auks, as well as species breeding in the region. Qualitative assessments of vulnerability to fisheries, pollutants, disturbance (including introduced predators), marine renewables and climate found that 93% of species were vulnerable to ?2 threats, and 58% to ?4. Our results indicate that the majority of birds in this region of the North Sea face an uncertain future, potentially threatening the resilience of this important marine bird community.