Volume 49, No. 1

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Ocean heat wave induces breeding failure at the southern breeding limit of the Northern Gannet Morus bassanus


1 Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology Program, Psychology Department, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador A1C 5X7, Canada *(
2 Canadian Wildlife Service, Quebec City, Quebec G1J 0C3, Canada
3 NL Parks & Natural Areas Division, Holyrood, Newfoundland and Labrador A0B 2Z0, Canada
4 Research & Technology Centre (FTZ), University of Kiel, Hafentörn 1, 25761 Büsum, Germany
5 Canadian Wildlife Service, Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada


MONTEVECCHI, W.A., REGULAR, P.M., RAIL, J.-F., POWER, K., MOONEY, C., D'ENTREMONT, K.J.N., GARTHE, S., GUZZWELL, L. & WILHELM, S.I. 2021. Ocean heat wave induces breeding failure at the southern breeding limit of the Northern Gannet Morus bassanus. Marine Ornithology 49: 71 - 78

Received 15 December 2019, accepted 01 September 2020

Date Published: 2021/04/15
Date Online: 2021/03/10
Key words: Atlantic mackerel, Cape St. Mary's, seabird breeding success, ocean climate variability, western Atlantic


We document unprecedented abandonments and breeding failures by Northern Gannets in eastern Canada at Cape St. Mary's, Bonaventure Island, and the Magdalen Islands. These events were associated with a marine heat wave during chick rearing in the late summer of 2012. The rapid onset of abandonment at Cape St. Mary's also coincided with intense lightning and thunder during an overnight storm. Parental desertions at all colonies were transient, resolving over a period of weeks, and appeared to be food-related, resulting in the poorest breeding success on record for each of these colonies. The Northern Gannet's primary prey during the breeding season is Atlantic mackerel Scomber scombrus, which was at historically low levels in 2012; a 2018 assessment by Fisheries and Oceans Canada classified the population in the Critical Zone. Researchers studying the effects of ocean heat waves are noticing widespread changes in marine food webs, and longer-term biophysical relationships are under investigation.


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