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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Dec 7;275(1652):2695-702. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0874.

Latitudinal gradients in sea ice and primary production determine Arctic seabird colony size in Greenland.

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  • 1Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, WA 98105, USA.


Sea ice loss will indirectly alter energy transfer through the pelagic food web and ultimately impact apex predators. We quantified spring-time trends in sea ice recession around each of 46 thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia) colonies in west Greenland across 20 degrees of latitude and investigated the magnitude and timing of the associated spring-time primary production. A geographical information system was used to extract satellite-based observations of sea ice concentration from the Nimbus-7 scanning multichannel microwave radiometer (SMMR, 1979-1987) and the Defence Meteorological Satellite Programs Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSMI, 1987-2004), and satellite-based observations of chlorophyll a from the moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS: EOS-Terra satellite) in weekly intervals in circular buffers around each colony site (150 km in radius). Rapid recession of high Arctic seasonal ice cover created a temporally predictable primary production bloom and associated trophic cascade in water gradually exposed to solar radiation. This pattern was largely absent from lower latitudes where little to no sea ice resulted in a temporally variable primary production bloom driven by nutrient cycling and upwelling uncoupled to ice. The relationship between the rate and variability of sea ice recession and colony size of thick-billed murres shows that periodical confinement of the trophic cascade at high latitudes determines the carrying capacity for Arctic seabirds during the breeding period.

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