Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular & integrative physiology

Nutritional stress in Northern gannets during an unprecedented low reproductive success year: can extreme sea surface temperature event and dietary change be the cause?

PMID 25449633


Reproductive success of seabirds is tightly associated with availability of their prey for which the spatiotemporal distribution may be influenced by sea surface temperature (SST) fluctuations. The objective of this study was to investigate whether Northern gannets (Morus bassanus) from the largest colony in North America (Bonaventure Island, Quebec, Canada) were in negative nutritional state during the unprecedented low reproductive success year of 2012, and whether this was associated with changes in SST anomalies and diet. The incubation period of gannets in 2012 was characterized by a significant decline, from early to late incubation, in plasma triglyceride levels that was associated with an increase in plasma corticosterone levels. However, no changes in plasma glycerol and β-hydroxybutyrate levels were noted. SST anomalies recorded in this area (south of the Gulf of St. Lawrence) during the breeding period were consistently higher in 2012 compared to the previous year (a better reproductive success year). Based on signatures of stable carbon (δ(13)C) and nitrogen (δ(15)N) isotopes in gannet red blood cells and in whole fish homogenates of three major preys (mackerel, herring, and capelin), a minor dietary shift was noted between those years and incubation periods. In light of these findings, it is suggested that the extreme warm-water perturbation event that prevailed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence during summer 2012 was associated with a rapid deterioration of nutritional condition of Bonaventure Island gannets during the incubation. These suboptimal physiological changes likely contributed to the dramatic decline in reproductive success reported in this colony.