Little auks buffer the impact of current Arctic climate change

David Grémillet*, Jorg Welcker, Nina J. Karnovsky, Wojciech Walkusz, Margaret E. Hall, Jérôme Fort, Zachary W. Brown, John R. Speakman, Ann M.A. Harding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Climate models predict a multi-degree warming of the North Atlantic in the 21st century. A research priority is to understand the effect of such changes upon marine organisms. With 40 to 80 million individuals, planktivorous little auks Alle alle are an essential component of pelagic food webs in this region that is potentially highly susceptible to climatic effects. Using an integrative study of their behaviour, physiology and fitness at 3 study sites, we evaluated the effect of ocean warming on little auks across the Greenland Sea in 2005 to 2007. Contrary to our hypothesis, the birds responded to a wide range of sea surface temperatures via plasticity of their foraging behaviour, allowing them to maintain their fitness levels. Predicted effects of climate change are significantly attenuated by such plasticity, confounding attempts to forecast future effects of climate change using envelope models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-206
Number of pages10
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2012

Bibliographical note

This study was funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant 0612504 to N.J.K. and A.M.A.H. and Grant 0301469 to N.J.K.), the Research Council of Norway (MariClim, 165112 ⁄ S30), and the French Polar Institute (IPEV Project 388 to D.G. and A.M.A.H.). All investigations were conducted under permits of the Governor of Svalbard, the Greenland Homerule Government, the Danish Ministry of Environment and Nature, and the Ethics Committee of the French Polar Institute. We thank all assistants for heroic Arctic field sessions in polar bear areas: A. Bailey, N. Baldwin, L. Borg, D. Buchner, S. Christensen-Dalsgaard, J. Creuwels, J. Delingat, A. Diederichs, K. Holser, L. McFadden, S. Natterer, R. Orben, V. Patil, M. Pella-Donnelly, E. Pettex, H. Routti, J. Schultner, N. Seifert and E. Weston. We are grateful to S. Patrick and A. Lescroël for statistical assistance and to M. Fort for illustrations.


  • Behavioural plasticity
  • Envelope models
  • Global warming
  • North Atlantic
  • Pelagic food web
  • Zooplankton


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