Vulnerability and Climate Change: The Plight of Iceland's Puffins


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Vulnerability and Climate Change: The Plight of Iceland's Puffins

  1. 1. Coastal  and  Marine  Management  Master’s  ProgrammePUFFINS AS INDICATORS OF CLIMATE CHANGE.Puffins are adapted to living in cold waters between 32º to 68º Fahrenheit (0º to 20º Celsius) and prey on cold waterspecies; herring, capelin and sand-eels. Besides a long term prospect of breeding colonies being inundated due to sea levelrise, climate change may also be playing a role in the current population decline.Climate directly affects metabolic and reproductive processes and indirectly affects resource availability. In the Arcticphytoplankton blooms are connected to ice retreat. Blooms occur early in cold waters and early melts have advanced springphenology. Minor changes in climate invoke non-linear responses that unbalance established trophic patterns leading to foodchain components shifting their phenology at different times and rates (Durant et al.,2007). Present Icelandic Puffinmortality maybe connected to a climate driven mismatch between prey availability and predator productivity.HUMAN IMPACTSOver fishing and excessive hunting have threatened Puffinpopulations in the past. In the early 1900’s a 30 year hunting banwas imposed in the Westman Islands. Once stocks had recovered,Islanders adopted the ‘fleyg’ sky fishing technique from the FaroeIslands, targeting non-breeding birds in the air rather than those attheir nests. A fixed hunting season, July to August, was also set.ICON OF THE NORTH ATLANTICeREFERENCESDurant, J., Hjermann, D., Ottersen, G., Stenseth, N., (2007): Climate and the match or mismatch between predator requirements and resource availability. Climate Research. 33: 271-283Hansen, E., (2009): Iceland Nature Institute: Puffin Stock in Danger. Iceland Review Online 16.06.2009/ 16:00Klein, R., (2002): CoastalVunerability, Resilence and Adaptation to Climate Change; an Interdisciplinary Perspective. Cumulative Dissertation.Osterblom, H., Olsson, O., Blenckner,T., Furness, R., (2008): Junk-food in marine systems. Oikos, 117: 967-977VULNERABILITY  &  CLIMATE  CHANGE:  THE  PLIGHT  OF  ICELAND’S  PUFFINS.  • Deborah Davies • • HáskólaseturVestfjarða • May 2010 •                          In 2005, population declines affecting the British and Faroe Isles reached Icelandic shores.Ecologists reported dead hatchlings and found pre-breeding generations to be absent inmany colonies. In four years the Westman Isles home to 700,000 breading couples - thelargest colony in the world - saw a population decrease of 24 percent (Hansen, 2009). In acomplex web of interactions could Puffins be a bio-indicator of the health of Iceland s seas?THE FUTUREVulnerability is more than the sensitivity of natural and human systems to the potential impacts of climate change, it is alsothe degree to which these systems can respond to these impacts (Klein, 2002). In the Westman Isles, Puffins are part of thenatural and cultural landscape and a significant tourist draw. The community supports research into intrinsic and extrinsicfactors that affect Puffins and inhibit or enhance their adaptation. However the possible shift to ‘junk-food’ coupled withlarge scale changes in climatological and oceanographic forcing, as well as predation, (over)fishing and competition couldmean that, unlike in the past, a ban on hunting in the Westman Islands, may simply not be enough this time.WINTER ODYSSEYPuffins spend most of their lives on the water comingashore only to bread. Most mortalities occur duringthe winter due to depressed food stocks, adverseweather conditions and shorter foraging days. It is alsothe time when puffins undergo their main moult, losewing feathers and become flightless.In 2008, geo-locator tags fitted to birds on the Isle ofMay, Scotland, showed that Puffins are heading intothe cooler Atlantic, rather than a warming North Sea,where phytoplankton blooms are low. If this is truefor Icelandic Puffins, greater distances and differinghabitats will add to their vulnerability, risk of exhaus-tion and delayed return for the breeding season.JUNK FOODA shift in food supply may also have induced a dietaryswitch to prey of low energy. This ‘Junk Food’ maynot be sufficient to sustain the Puffins metabolismand energy expensive, foraging behaviour.(Osterblom et al., 2008)There are around 12 million Atlantic Puffins (FraterculaArctica) 6 million of which bread along the Icelandic coast.Population Collapse(Durant et al., 2007))Thursday, 30 May 2013