Puffins make poor diet choices when the chips are down

phys.org | 7/10/2019 | Staff
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A new study has shown that Britain's puffins may struggle to adapt to changes in their North Sea feeding grounds and researchers are calling for better use of marine protection areas (MPAs) to help protect the country's best known seabirds. Britain's coasts support globally important populations of many species of seabird, but they face many challenges as their established habitats change.

Scientists at the University of Southampton and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology studied the diet and distribution of Atlantic puffins and razorbills on the Isle of May National Nature Reserve, off the coast of southeast Scotland.

Seabirds - Feeding - Habits - Winter - Conditions

They studied the seabirds' over-winter feeding habits and found that during the 2014 to 2015 winter, when conditions were good, both species foraged close to their breeding colony eating a diet consisting mostly of lipid-rich fish such as sandeels. However in the 2007 to 2008 winter, conditions were not as good and the small fish populations were mainly concentrated further out in the southern North Sea. Whilst the razorbills flew farther away from the breeding colony in order to maintain their healthy diet, the puffins stayed closer in, eating a poorer quality diet of crustacea, polychaete worms and snake pipefish. The researchers found that fewer birds survived to return to the colony in the spring of 2008 compared to 2015, with puffins being more severely affected than razorbills.

To determine the birds' most likely foraging locations and position in the food chain, the team used tiny geolocation loggers attached to leg rings and a map developed by the University of Southampton based on the chemicals found in jellyfish in UK waters. These chemicals vary across marine space due to differences in the marine environment's chemistry, biology and physical processes and are transferred up the food chain to the seabirds. The researchers were therefore able measure...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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