Can polar seabirds really adapt to climate change?

The ability of animals to adapt to their environment is crucial for populations to persist in a changing climate. However, we know that the environment changes not only in the average conditions, but also in how variable those conditions are. While it widely accepted that variation in traits is necessary for plasticity in response to a changing environment, variability in behavioural and life-history traits in animals is not well understood.

Foraging behaviour is strongly influenced by the environment but only recently have studies shown that it is variability in this behaviour that may allow individual to adapt to climate change. Given the environment at the poles is changing at an unprecedented rate, and some of the best foraging data exists for seabirds, this project will focus on polar seabirds. Objectives
1. Quantify the mean and variance in suites of foraging traits using pre-existing and newly collected biologging data from Arctic and Antarctic seabird populations
2. Compare and contrast differences between individuals, populations and species and link this to life-history traits and population trends
3. Using a variety of climate indices and local environmental metrics examine how foraging behaviour changes over time as a function of environmental variability
4. Using future climate models to predict the vulnerability of species to environmental change
Novelty and timeliness
To date, work has focused on average foraging behaviour, but the variance in traits is crucial for adaptation, particularly given known changes in climate variability itself. Despite the abundance of biologging data available to study seabird foraging, research has often focused on single traits and species with single environmental effects. This project will use climate models, in conjunction with novel modelling techniques, to allow us to understand not only how the mean of a single trait changes, but how the variance in multiple traits change

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£0 GBP
Start date
25 Sep 2022
3 years 6 months 5 days
End date
30 Mar 2026