The decline in a population of Atlantic puffins could be due to the degradation of conditions in the North Sea.

18 January 2010

A study published in the journal Marine Biology* used geolocation technology to track Atlantic puffins from the Isle of May National Natural Reserve in the North Sea. The research team found that a recent decline of 30% observed in the bird population since 2003 could be due to worsening climate conditions in the North Sea.

The study was carried out by the Center of Ecology & Hydrology and the British Antarctic Survey eand headed by Dr. Mike Harris (CEH). Miniature logging devices were attached to fifty puffins to record the birds’ positions.

Dr. Harris stated, "Modern technology has come to the aid of the puffin just when it was needed. The quarter of a million puffins that breed in northeast Britain head out to sea during the winter and we previously thought that they stayed in the North Sea. We now know that some make long trips into the Atlantic during winter. This is vital new knowledge which should help us explain recent declines in puffin numbers."

The use of Atlantic waters by the puffins appears to be a recent phenomenon. The research team thinks that a rise in mortality is linked to this change in spatial distribution, which reflects a deterioration of conditions in the North Sea.

Dr. Francis Daunt, co-author of the paper, said, “Although the factors causing the recent changes in puffin distribution and mortality require further study, we are confident that this new approach, combining data from logging devices such as geolocators together with other information on changing conditions in the North Sea, will help improve our understanding of this complex ecological issue.”

*Michael P. Harris, Francis Daunt, Mark Newell, Richard A. Phillips and Sarah Wanless (2009) Wintering areas of adult Atlantic puffins Fratercula arctica from a North Sea colony as revealed by geolocation technology. Marine Biology