Seabirds in a Changing World: Dietary Diversification and Forever Chemicals in Icelandic Guillemots (Project LOMVIA)

Climate change is having obvious and severe impacts in the Polar Regions. The Arctic is currently warming at more than double the rate of other parts of the globe, causing unprecedented change to the region’s ocean environment. The Arctic Ocean’s ecosystem is especially sensitive to warming because of its reliance on sea ice, from the algae that grow on its underside to large predatory mammals that hunt and live on its surface. In addition, top predators in Arctic ecosystems are increasingly affected by exposure to organic contaminants from anthropogenic sources.

Iceland's iconic seabird populations, the Brünnich's guillemot (Uria lomvia) and common guillemot (U. aalge), are declining. Both cliff-nesting species have similar lifestyles but differ in thermal preferences; Brünnich's guillemots thrive in Arctic conditions, while common guillemots favor warmer North Atlantic waters. The project LOMVIA studies investigates the dietary diversification of modern and historical populations of these two auk species in Iceland, as well as contaminant exposure in modern populations by leveraging biochemical methods and telemetry.

The research aims to: 1) examine interspecies competition for food resources between the two species in modern populations, 2) determine whether there was a higher degree of niche differentiation in historical seabird populations before global warming, and 3) assess how wintering and foraging strategies affect the bioaccumulation of PFASs in modern populations. By addressing these research questions, the study seeks to better understand the ecological impacts of climate change and anthropogenic contaminants on these seabirds, informing conservation and management efforts.

The project LOMVIA is jointly supported by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

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