The Arctic is experiencing more rapid climate change than any other ecosystem on earth, with potentially devastating consequences for biodiversity in the region. Seabirds are particularly vulnerable because they often forage far from breeding colonies, and because parents must coordinate their care when raising offspring. This project will investigate the ability of seabirds with obligate biparental care to adapt to changes in their foraging environment, and the consequences of this adaptability for their partner and their offspring.
Objectives – The student will work on a population of individually marked kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla in Svalbard, combining behavioural observations at a breeding colony, tracking of foraging trips using biologging techniques and environmental modelling. The principal objectives are to:
1) Quantify the foraging behaviour of parents across the breeding season and determine its impact on offspring fitness. 2) Determine how each parent responds to their partner’s behaviour, and investigate the impact of environmental factors on parental coordination. 3) Model the effects of environmental constraints on foraging behaviour to determine how obligate biparental care may impact on a species ability to adapt to climate change. Novelty – Behavioural plasticity in foraging has been modelled at the individual level, but its impact on parental coordination and the associated ability to adapt to climate change, is poorly understood. Seabirds are model species in foraging studies, and yet the constraints imposed by obligate biparental care have been largely ignored, despite their significance for understanding individual foraging decisions. Timeliness – Kittiwakes feed at glacial fronts and as the Arctic is warming at an unprecedented rate, these foraging sites could disappear within a decade. Therefore, this is an ideal model system in which to study these questions, and to understand the likely impact of climate change on seabirds and the Arctic ecosystem.