Variation and correlation in the timing of breeding of North Atlantic seabirds across multiple scales

Katharine Keogan, Francis Daunt, Sarah Wanless, Richard A. Phillips, David Alvarez, Tycho Anker-Nilssen, Robert T. Barrett, Claus Bech, Peter H. Becker, Per-Arvid Berglund, Sandra Bouwhuis, Zofia M. Burr, Olivier Chastel, Signe Christensen-Dalsgaard, Sebastien Descamps, Tony Diamond, Kyle Elliott, Kjell-Einar Erikstad, Mike Harris, Jonas Hentati-SundbergMartin Heubeck, Stephen W. Kress, Magdalene Langset, Svein-Håkon Lorentsen, Heather L Major, Mark Mallory, Mick Mellor, Will T. S. Miles, Børge Moe, Carolyn Mostello, Mark Newell, Ian Nisbet, Tone Kirstin Reiertsen, Jennifer Rock, Paula Shannon, Øystein Varpe, Sue Lewis, Albert B. Phillimore*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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1. Timing of breeding, an important driver of fitness in many populations, is widely studied in the context of global change, yet despite considerable efforts to identify environmental drivers of seabird nesting phenology, for most populations we lack evidence of strong drivers. Here we adopt an alternative approach, examining the degree to which different populations positively covary in their annual phenology to infer whether phenological responses to environmental drivers are likely to be (i) shared across species at a range of spatial scales, (ii) shared across populations of a species, or (iii) idiosyncratic to populations.

2. We combined 51 long-term datasets on breeding phenology spanning 50 years from nine seabird species across 29 North Atlantic sites and examined the extent to which different populations share early versus late breeding seasons depending on a hierarchy of spatial scales comprising breeding site, small-scale region, large-scale region and the whole North Atlantic.

3. In about a third of cases we found laying dates of populations of different species sharing the same breeding site or small-scale breeding region were positively correlated, which is consistent with the hypothesis that they share phenological responses to the same environmental conditions. In comparison we found no evidence for positive phenological covariation among populations across species aggregated at larger spatial scales.

4. In general we found little evidence for positive phenological covariation between populations of a single species, and in many instances the inter-year variation specific to a population was substantial, consistent with each population responding idiosyncratically to local environmental conditions. Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) was the exception, with populations exhibiting positive covariation in laying dates that decayed with the distance between breeding sites, suggesting that populations may be responding to a similar driver.

5. Our approach sheds light on the potential factors that may drive phenology in our study species, thus furthering our understanding of the scales at which different seabirds interact with interannual variation in their environment. We also identify additional systems and phenological questions to which our inferential approach could be applied.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1797-1812
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number9
Early online date21 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022


  • Breeding time
  • Climate change
  • Macroecology
  • Multispecies
  • Phenology


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  • Variation and correlation in the timing of breeding of North Atlantic seabirds across multiple scales

    Keogan, K. (Creator), Daunt, F. (Creator), Wanless, S. (Creator), Phillips, R. (Creator), Alvarez, D. (Creator), Anker-Nilssen, T. (Creator), Barrett, R. (Creator), Bech, C. (Creator), Becker, P. (Creator), Berglund, P. (Creator), Bouwhuis, S. (Creator), Burr, Z. (Creator), Chastel, O. (Creator), Christensen-Dalsgaard, S. (Creator), Descamps, S. (Creator), Diamond, T. (Creator), Elliott, K. (Creator), Erikstad, K. E. (Creator), Harris, M. (Creator), Hentati-Sundberg, J. (Creator), Heubeck, M. (Creator), Langset, M. (Creator), Lorentsen, S. (Creator), Major, H. (Creator), Mallory, M. (Creator), Mellor, M. (Creator), Miles, W. T. S. (Creator), Moe, B. (Creator), Mostello, C. (Creator), Newell, M. (Creator), Nisbet, I. (Creator), Reiertsen, T. (Creator), Rock, J. (Creator), Varpe, Ø. (Creator), Lewis, S. (Creator), Phillimore, A. (Creator), Shannon, P. (Creator) & Kress, S. (Creator), Dryad, 2 May 2022


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