Breeding success of Short-tailed Shearwaters, a migratory seabird, following extreme environmental conditionsJacqueline S. Glencross, Jennifer L. Lavers, Eric J. Woehler
Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency, causing disruption to global ecosystems. Large-scale events, such as marine heatwaves, can impact the abundance of prey species, which consequently influences the behaviour of top-level predators such as seabirds. The short-tailed shearwater Ardenna tenuirostris is a trans-hemispheric migrant with typically a highly synchronous breeding phenology. Here, we document short-tailed shearwater colony occupancy for the period 2011-2020, with a focused assessment of their breeding success in the 2019/20 season, which followed a marine heatwave that occurred predominantly the non-breeding areas in the North Pacific Ocean. The birds’ return to their breeding colonies in southeast Australia was delayed by approximately two weeks in October 2019, and the subsequent breeding season ended in only 34% breeding success, with nest abandonment beginning in the incubation phase. A North Pacific marine heatwave in 2019, associated with a mass mortality event of over 9000 birds (‘wreck’ of beach-washed birds), led to reduced adult body condition and carry-over effects causing egg and chick failures during the subsequent breeding season. Localised weather events (i.e., flooding of burrows due to heavy rainfall) also influenced breeding outcomes of the 2019/20 season. The relationship between wreck events and seabird breeding ecology is an understudied area, partly due to the difficulties around quantifying the scale of wrecks. Our study is one of few that documents poor seabird breeding success following the extreme marine conditions which have persisted in the North Pacific Ocean since 2013.