Changes in the timing of egg-laying of a colonial seabird in relation to population size and environmental conditions

Stephen C. Votier, Ben J. Hatchwell, Meghann Mears, Tim R. Birkhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


An emerging consequence of global climate change is its potential effect on the timing of seasonal biological events. Analysis of long-term datasets reveals a high degree of plasticity in the nature of phenological responses both within and among species, and understanding these differences is central to understanding the mechanisms and implications of climate-related change. We investigated factors influencing timing of breeding (median laying date) in a colonial nesting seabird, the common guillemot Uria aalge, over 23 breeding seasons between 1973 and 2008. There was a trend for earlier laying over this period, and earlier laying was associated with higher average breeding success. Multiple regression models (with de-trended explanatory variables to control for linear trends over time) indicate that the timing of breeding is positively correlated with a wide-scale climatic driver, the winter North Atlantic Oscillation (WNAO), and negatively correlated with population size: guillemots lay later in years with high WNAO indices and earlier in years with larger populations. Responses to environmental conditions are probably related to indirect effects on timing or abundance of food availability, direct effects of weather or both. The mechanism(s) leading to a possible relationship between laying date and population size are less clear. They may be related to Allee-type effects associated with social stimulation, improved foraging efficiency or a density-dependent increase in breeding site quality. Given the correlative nature of these results, we are cautious about the role of non-climatic (intrinsic) factors, but we cannot exclude that they play a role alongside climatic (extrinsic) factors in influencing reproductive phenology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-233
Number of pages9
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


  • Allee effect
  • Climate change
  • Coloniality
  • Density dependence
  • NAO
  • Phenology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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