Carry-over effects in a Pacific seabird: stable isotope evidence that pre-breeding diet quality influences reproductive success

J Anim Ecol. 2009 Mar;78(2):460-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01492.x. Epub 2008 Nov 3.


1. Understanding the interactions between different periods of the annual cycle in migratory animals has been constrained by our inability to track individuals across seasons. In seabirds, virtually nothing is known about how diet quality during the non-breeding period, away from the breeding grounds, might influence subsequent reproductive success. 2. We used stable nitrogen (delta(15)N) and carbon (delta(13)C) isotopes to evaluate the effects of non-breeding diet quality on the timing of breeding and egg size in a population of Cassin's auklets (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) breeding on Triangle Island, British Columbia. Adult feathers are grown during two different periods of the annual cycle, which allowed us to estimate diet quality from the previous fall (October-November) and pre-breeding (February-March) period. 3. We found that the estimated proportion of energetically superior copepods (Neocalanus spp.) in the pre-breeding diet tended to be higher in females that bred earlier and laid larger eggs, whereas energetically poor juvenile rockfish (Sebastes spp.) were dominant in the pre-breeding diets of females that bred later and laid smaller eggs. We detected no effect of fall diet quality on breeding date or egg size, and no effect of pre-breeding diet quality on breeding date in males. 4. Pre-breeding diet quality was not related to body condition measured 1-2 days after laying, which suggests that females may need to attain a threshold condition before they initiate breeding and successfully rear young. 5. Our results suggest that changes in climatic conditions during the pre-breeding period may have severe consequences for reproductive success by influencing breeding date and egg size. Our work emphasizes the importance of determining how events are linked throughout the annual cycle for understanding the fitness and population dynamics of migratory animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbon Isotopes / chemistry
  • Charadriiformes / physiology*
  • Copepoda
  • Diet / veterinary*
  • Feathers / chemistry
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Fishes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / chemistry
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Seasons


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes