, Volume 186, Issue 1, pp 1–10 | Cite as

The impact of sea ice conditions on breeding decisions is modulated by body condition in an arctic partial capital breeder

  • Frankie Jean-GagnonEmail author
  • P. Legagneux
  • G. Gilchrist
  • S. Bélanger
  • O. P. Love
  • J. Bêty
Highlighted Student Research


Determining how environmental conditions interact with individual intrinsic properties is important for unravelling the underlying mechanisms that drive variation in reproductive decisions among migratory species. We investigated the influence of sea ice conditions and body condition at arrival on the breeding propensity, i.e. the decision to reproduce or not within a single breeding season, and timing of laying in migrating common eiders (Somateria mollissima) breeding in the Arctic. Using Radarsat satellite images acquired from 2002 to 2013, we estimated the proportion of open water in the intertidal zone in early summer to track the availability of potential foraging areas for pre-breeding females. Timing of ice-breakup varied by up to 20 days across years and showed strong relationship with both breeding propensity and the timing of laying of eiders: fewer pre-breeding individuals were resighted nesting in the colony and laying was also delayed in years with late ice-breakup. Interestingly, the effect of sea ice dynamics on reproduction was modulated by the state of individuals at arrival on the breeding grounds: females arriving in low condition were more affected by a late ice-breakup. Open water accessibility in early summer, a likely proxy of food availability, is thus crucial for reproductive decisions in a (partial) capital breeder. Our predictive capacity in determining how Arctic-breeding seabirds respond to changes in environmental conditions will require incorporating such cross-seasonal cumulative effects.


Reproductive decisions Breeding propensity Individual state Sea ice Common eider 



We would like to thank the field crew who collected data over many years, and I. Butler and R. Kelly for their help with the data management. We thank the Hunter and Trappers Organization (HTO) of Coral Harbour for supporting our research and the Canadian Ice Service for providing the SAR imagery. This study was supported by grants and logistical support from the following: Science and technology branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Polar Continental Shelf, Canadian Network of Centre of Excellence ArcticNet, Northern Scientific Training Program (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), EnviroNorth NSERC CREATE Training Program in Northern Environmental Sciences, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Fonds Québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies (FQRNT), Centre d’études nordiques (CEN), the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program.

All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Author contributions

FJG, JB and SB conceived the research question, the project and the analysis. FJG and PL conducted field work and GG provided long-term monitoring breeding data.FJG and PL analyzed the data. FJG, PL and JB wrote the manuscript; other authors provided editorial advice.

Supplementary material

442_2017_4002_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (242 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 242 kb)


  1. ACIA (2005) Impacts of warming climate: Arctic climate impact assessment. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Barton K (2016) MuMIn: Multi-Model Inference. R package version 1.15.6. Accessed 08 Oct 2016
  3. Bêty J, Gauthier G, Giroux JF (2003) Body condition, migration, and timing of reproduction in snow geese: a test of the condition-dependent model of optimal clutch size. Am Nat 162:110–121CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bêty J, Giroux JF, Gauthier G (2004) Individual variation in timing of migration: causes and reproductive consequences in greater snow geese (Anser caerulescens atlanticus). Behav Ecol Soc 57:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blums P, Nichols JD, Hines JE, Lindberg MS, Mednis A (2005) Individual quality, survival variation and patterns of phenotypic selection on body condition and timing of nesting in birds. Oecologia 143:365–376CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bond JC, Esler D, Williams TD (2008) Breeding propensity of female harlequin ducks. J Wild Manage 72:1388–1393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bonnet X, Lourdais O, Shine R, Naulleau G (2002) Reproduction in a typical capital breeder: costs, currencies, and complications in the aspic viper. Ecology 83:2124–2135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brown GP, Shine R (2002) Reproductive ecology of a tropical natricine snake, tropidonophis mairii (colubridae). J Zool 258:63–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2004) Multimodel inference—understanding AIC and BIC in model selection. Sociol Meth Res 33:261–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bustnes JO, Erikstad KE, Bjørn TH (2002) Body condition and brood abandonment in common eiders breeding in the high arctic. Waterbirds 25:63–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cam E, Hines JE, Monnat JY, Nichols JD, Danchin E (1998) Are adult non breeders prudent parents? The kittiwake model. Ecology 79:2917–2930CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chastel O (1995) Influence of reproductive success on breeding frequency in four southern petrels. Ibis 137:360–363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chaulk KG, Mahoney ML (2012) Does spring ice cover influence nest initiation date and clutch size in common eiders? Polar Biol 35:645–653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chaulk KG, Robertson GJ, Montevecchi WA (2007) Landscape features and sea ice influence nesting common eider abundance and dispersion. Can J Zool 85:301–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clutton-Brock TH (1988) Reproductive success: Studies of individual variation in contrasting breeding systems. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, USAGoogle Scholar
  16. Coulson JC (1984) The population dynamics of the eider duck Somateria mollissima and evidence of extensive non-breeding by adult ducks. Ibis 126:525–543CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cristol DA (1995) Early arrival, initiation of nesting, and social status: an experimental study of breeding female red-winged blackbirds. Behav Ecol 6:87–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cubaynes S, Doherty PF, Schreiber EA, Gimenez O (2011) To breed or not to breed: a seabird’s response to extreme climatic events. Biol Lett 7:303–306CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Daan S, Dijkstra C, Drent R, Meijer T (1988) Food supply and the annual timing of avian reproduction. In: Proceedings of the International Ornithological Congress, vol 19. University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, pp 392–407Google Scholar
  20. Dalhaug L, Tombre IM, Erikstad KE (1996) Seasonal decline in clutch size of the barnacle goose in Svalbard. Condor 98:42–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dean KG, Stringer WJ, Ahlnas K, Searcy C, Weingartner T (1994) The influence of river discharge on the thawing of sea ice, mackenzie river delta: albedo and temperature analyses. Polar Res 13:83–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Descamps S, Yoccoz NG, Gaillard J-M, Gilchrist HG, Erikstad KE, Hanssen SA, Cazelles B, Forbes MR, Bêty J (2010) Detecting population heterogeneity in effects of north atlantic oscillations on seabird body condition: get into the rhythm. Oikos 119:1526–1536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Descamps S, Bêty J, Love OP, Gilchrist HG (2011) Individual optimization of reproduction in a long-lived migratory bird: a test of the condition-dependent model of laying date and clutch size. Funct Ecol 25:671–681CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Descamps S, Tarroux A, Varpe Ø, Yoccoz NG, Tveraa T, Lorentsen SH (2015) Demographic effects of extreme weather events: snow storms, breeding success, and population growth rate in a long-lived Antarctic seabird. Ecol Evol 5:314–325CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Drent RH, Daan S (1980) The prudent parent: energetic adjustments in avian breeding. Ardea 68:225–252Google Scholar
  26. Emmerson L, Southwell C (2008) Sea ice cover and its influence on Adelie penguin reproductive performance. Ecology 89:2096–2102CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Faaborg J, Holmes RT, Anders AD, Bildstein KL, Dugger KM, Gauthreaux SA, Heglund P, Hobson KA, Jahn AE, Johnson DH, Latta SC, Levey DJ, Marra PP, Merkord CL, Nol E, Rothstein SI, Sherry TW, Sillett TS, Thompson FR, Warnock N (2010) Recent advances in understanding migration systems of new world land birds. Ecol Monogr 80:3–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gagliano M, McCormick MI, Meekan MG (2007) Survival against the odds: ontogenetic changes in selective pressure mediate growth-mortality trade-offs in a marine fish. Proc R Soc B 274:1575–1582CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Gaston AJ, Hipfner M (1998) The effect of ice conditions in northern Hudson bay on breeding by thick-billed murres (uria lomvia). Can J Zool 76:480–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gaston AJ, Gilchrist HG, Mallory ML (2005) Variation in ice conditions has strong effects on the breeding of marine birds at prince leopold island, Nunavut. Ecography 28:331–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gaston AJ, Bertram DF, Boyne AW, Chardine JW, Davoren G, Diamond AW, Hedd A, Montevecchi WA, Hipfner JM, Lemon MJF (2009) Changes in Canadian seabird populations and ecology since 1970 in relation to changes in oceanography and food webs. Environ Rev 17:267–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gilg O, Kovacs KM, Aars J, Fort J, Gauthier G, Grémillet D, Ims RA, Meltofte H, Moreau J, Post E, Schmidt NM, Yannic G, Bollache L (2012) Climate change and the ecology and evolution of arctic vertebrates. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1249:166–190CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Granskog MA, Kuzyk ZZA, Azetsu-Scott K, Macdonald RW (2011) Distributions of runoff, sea-ice melt and brine using δ 18 O and salinity data—a new view on freshwater cycling in Hudson Bay. J Mar Syst 88:362–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Harms NJ, Legagneux P, Gilchrist HG, Bêty J, Love OP, Forbes MR, Bortolotti GR, Soos C (2015) Feather corticosterone reveals effect of moulting conditions in the autumn on subsequent reproductive output and survival in an arctic migratory bird. Proc R Soc B 282:20142085CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  35. Harshman LG, Zera AJ (2007) The cost of reproduction: the devil in the details. Trends Ecol Evol 22:80–86CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Hennin HL, Legagneux P, Bêty J, Williams TD, Gilchrist HG, Baker TM, Love OP (2015) Pre-breeding energetic management in a mixed-strategy breeder. Oecologia 177:235–243CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Hennin HL, Bêty J, Legagneux P, Williams TD, Gilchrist HG, Love OP (2016) Energetic physiology mediates individual optimization of breeding phenology in a migratory arctic seabird. Am Nat 188:434–445CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Ingram RG, Wang J, Lin C, Legendre L, Fortier L (1996) Impact of freshwater on a subarctic coastal ecosystem under seasonal sea ice (southeastern Hudson Bay, Canada). I. Interannual variability and predicted global warming influence on river plume dynamics and sea ice. J Mar Syst 7:221–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Iverson SA, Gilchrist HG, Smith PA, Gaston AJ, Forbes MR (2014) Longer ice-free seasons increase the risk of nest depredation by polar bears for colonial breeding birds in the Canadian arctic. Proc R Soc B 281:20133128CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. König Beatty C (2007) Arctic landfast sea ice. PhD dissertation, Department of Mathematics, New York University, NY, USAGoogle Scholar
  41. Kulaszewicz I, Wojczulanis-Jakubas K, Jakubas D (2016) Trade-offs between reproduction and self-maintenance (immune function and body mass) in a small seabird, the little auk. J Avian Biol 48:371–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Legagneux P, Fast PLF, Gauthier G, Bêty J (2012) Manipulating individual state during migration provides evidence for carry-over effects modulated by environmental conditions. Proc R Soc B 279:876–883CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Legagneux P, Hennin H, Williams TD, Gilchrist HG, Love OP, Bêty J (2016) Food shortage reduces breeding propensity regardless of pre-laying physiological investment in a partial capital breeder. J Avian Biol 47:001–007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lehikoinen A, Kilpi M, Öst M (2006) Winter climate affects subsequent breeding success of common eiders. Glob Change Biol 12:1355–1365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lepage D, Gauthier G, Menu S (2000) Reproductive consequences of egg-laying decisions in snow geese. J Anim Ecol 69:414–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Love OP, Gilchrist HG, Descamps S, Semeniuk CAD, Bêty J (2010) Pre-laying climatic cues can time reproduction to optimally match offspring hatching and ice conditions in an arctic marine bird. Oecologia 164:277–286CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Madsen J, Tamstorf M, Klaassen M, Eide N, Glahder C, Riget F, Nyegaard H, Cottaar F (2007) Effects of snow cover on the timing and success of reproduction in high-arctic pink-footed geese Anser brachyrhynchus. Polar Biol 30:1363–1372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mallory ML, Forbes MR (2007) Does sea ice constrain the breeding schedules of high arctic northern fulmars? Condor 109:894–906CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mazerolle MJ (2016) AICcmodavg: Model selection and multimodel inference based on (Q)AIC(c). R package version 2.1-0. Accessed 10 Oct 2016
  50. Mosbech A, Gilchrist G, Merkel F, Sonne C, Flagstad A, Nyegaard H (2006) Year-round movements of northern common eiders Somateria mollissima borealis breeding in arctic canada and west greenland followed by satellite telemetry. Ardea 94:651–665Google Scholar
  51. Newton I (2006) Can conditions experienced during migration limit the population levels of birds? J Ornith 147:146–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nilsson JÅ (1994) Energetic bottle-necks during breeding and the reproductive cost of being too early. J Anim Ecol 63:200–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Öst M, Ydenberg R, Kilpi M, Lindström K (2003) Condition and coalition formation by brood-rearing common eider females. Behav Ecol 14:311–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pinheiro JC, Bates DM (2000) Mixed effects models in s and s-plus. Springer, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Post E, Bhatt US, Bitz CM, Brodie JF, Fulton TL, Hebblewhite M, Kerby J, Kutz SJ, Stirling I, Walker DA (2013) Ecological consequences of sea-ice decline. Science 341:419–524CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Reed ET, Gauthier G, Giroux JF (2004) Effects of spring conditions on breeding propensity of greater snow goose females. Anim Biodiv Cons 27:35–46Google Scholar
  57. Ricklefs RE, Wikelski M (2002) The physiology/life-history nexus. Trends Ecol Evol 17:462–468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rivalan P, Prevot-Julliard AC, Choquet R, Pradel R, Jacquemin B, Girondot M (2005) Trade-off between current reproductive effort and delay to next reproduction in the leatherback sea turtle. Oecologia 145:564–574CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Robert A, Paiva VH, Bolton M, Jiguet F, Bried J (2012) The interaction between reproductive cost and individual quality is mediated by oceanic conditions in a long-lived bird. Ecology 93:1944–1952CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Rockwell R, Gormezano L (2009) The early bear gets the goose: climate change, polar bears and lesser snow geese in western Hudson bay. Polar Biol 32:539–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rowe L, Ludwig D, Schutler D (1994) Time, condition, and the seasonal decline of avian clutch size. Am Nat 143:698–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sedinger JS, Lindberg MS, Chelgren ND (2001) Age-specific breeding probability in black brant: effects of population density. J Anim Ecol 70:798–807CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sedinger JS, Chelgren ND, Ward DH, Lindberg MS (2008) Fidelity and breeding probability related to population density and individual quality in black brent geese Branta bernicla nigricans. J Anim Ecol 77:702–712CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Sedinger JS, Schamber JL, Ward DH, Nicolai CA, Conant B (2011) Carryover effects associated with winter location affect fitness, social status, and population dynamics in a long-distance migrant. Am Nat 178:E110–E123CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Sénéchal É, Bêty J, Gilchrist H, Hobson K, Jamieson S (2011a) Do purely capital layers exist among flying birds? Evidence of exogenous contribution to arctic-nesting common eider eggs. Oecologia 165:593–604CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Sénéchal É, Bêty J, Gilchrist HG (2011b) Interactions between lay date, clutch size, and postlaying energetic needs in a capital breeder. Behav Ecol 22:162–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Souchay G, Gauthier G, Pradel R (2014) To breed or not: a novel approach to estimate breeding propensity and potential trade-offs in an arctic-nesting species. Ecology 95:2745–2756CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Spendelow JA, Nichols JD (1989) Annual survival rates of breeding adult roseate terns. Auk 106:367–374Google Scholar
  69. Stearns SC (1989) Trade-offs in life-history evolution. Funct Ecol 3:259–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Stearns SC (1992) The evolution of life history. Academic press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  71. Stirling I, Lunn NJ, Iacozza J, Elliott C, Obbard M (2004) Polar bear distribution and abundance on the southwestern Hudson bay coast during open water season, in relation to population trends and annual ice patterns. Arctic 57:15–26Google Scholar
  72. Sutherland WJ, Freckleton RP, Godfray HCJ, Beissinger SR, Benton T, Cameron DD et al (2013) Identification of 100 fundamental ecological questions. J Ecol 101:58–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Swennen C (1990) Dispersal and migratory movements of eiders Somateria mollissima breeding in the Netherlands. Ornis Scand 21:17–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Tombre IM, Erikstad KE (1996) An experimental study of incubation effort in high-arctic barnacle geese. J Anim Ecol 65:325–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Van Noordwijk AJ, de Jong G (1986) Acquisition and allocation of resources: their influence on variation in life history tactics. Am Nat 128:137–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Visser ME, Holleman LJM, Caro SP (2009) Temperature has a causal effect on avian timing of reproduction. Proc R Soc B 276:2323–2331CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  77. Walther G-R, Post E, Convey P, Menzel A, Parmesan C, Beebee TJ, Fromentin J-M, Hoegh-Guldberg O, Bairlein F (2002) Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416:389–395CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  78. Warren JM, Cutting KA, Takekawa JY, De La Cruz SE, Williams TD, Koons DN (2014) Previous success and current body condition determine breeding propensity in lesser scaup: evidence for the individual heterogeneity hypothesis. Auk 131:287–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Williams GC (1966) Natural selection, the costs of reproduction, and a refinement of lack’s principle. Am Nat 100:687–690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Wilson AJ, Nussey DH (2010) What is individual quality? An evolutionary perspective. Trends Ecol Evol 25:207–214CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  81. World Meteorological Organization (1970) WMO sea-ice nomenclature, terminology, codes and illustrated glossary. Secretariat of the WMO, GenevaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frankie Jean-Gagnon
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • P. Legagneux
    • 2
  • G. Gilchrist
    • 3
  • S. Bélanger
    • 2
  • O. P. Love
    • 4
  • J. Bêty
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Département de BIOLOGIE, Géographie et Chimie et Centre D’études NordiqueUniversité du Québec à RimouskiRimouskiCanada
  3. 3.Environment and Climate Change CanadaNational Wildlife Research CentreOttawaCanada
  4. 4.Department of Biological Sciences and Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER)University of WindsorWindsorCanada

Personalised recommendations