Top-down effects override climate forcing on reproductive success in a declining sea duck

  • Markus Öst (Contributor)
  • Aleksi Lehikoinen (Contributor)
  • Kim Jaatinen (Contributor)



Population performance is predicted to be more strongly influenced by detrimental species interactions such as predation under benign climatic conditions, and by climate forcing under harsh conditions, reflected in geographical gradients in biotic interaction strength. Less appreciated is the potential for site-specific changes in drivers with the advent of anthropogenic alteration of predator-prey relationships, including apex predator restoration and spread of invasive predators. Particularly interesting is the relative impact of climate and biotic interactions on population performance when these conflict. In this 31-year study (1990-2020), we revisit a common eider (Somateria mollissima) population from SW Finland, Baltic Sea, fifteen years on from an earlier study showing that climate warming positively affected reproductive parameters and performance. However, the population is simultaneously exposed to increasing predation by the rapidly recovering native apex predator and invasive mammals. Based on the current population trend, we predicted (i) a weakening of the previously documented positive effects of a warming climate on vital rates, (ii) intensified predation, and (iii) increasing top-down control of vital rates and accompanying population decline. Five out of seven breeding parameters (annual spread in female body condition, breeding phenology and synchrony, interval between arrival and breeding, fledgling production) were best explained by predation indices, whereas climate signals (winter NAO, Baltic Sea maximum ice cover) on breeding parameters have weakened. Particularly intriguing is that the previous positive association between mild ice winters and subsequent reproductive output has disappeared during the past 15 years, highlighting the non-linear nature of climate change responses. Indirect predation effects (selective disappearance, changed reproductive strategies, nest-site selection and population age distribution) can potentially explain also the remaining breeding parameters (annual mean body condition and clutch size). The observed regime shift in predation risk appears to prevent this now endangered population from reaping the potential benefits of a warming climate.,The 31-year data set covers 1990-2020, but there are some missing values. Thus, data on eider breeding parameters were unavailable from the breeding population of common eiders from Tvärminne in 1992, a final brood count at Tvärminne was not conducted in 1993, and migration data from the Hanko Bird Observatory was lacking from 1990.,
Date made available1 Jan 2021

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