Linking sandeel consumption and the likelihood of starvation in harbour porpoises in the Scottish North Sea

Could climate change mean more starving porpoises?

Colin D MacLeod, Maria Begona Santos Vazquez, Robert J. Reid, Beth Emily Scott, Graham John Pierce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Sandeels are known to be negatively affected by climate change in a number of ways. This study investigated whether these changes are affecting the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), a species which consumes sandeels. Porpoise diet was examined in spring (March-May), a critical time of year for survival when sandeels are important prey, from 1993 to 2001 to provide baseline information on the proportion of sandeels consumed. When data from spring 2002 and 2003 were compared to these baseline data, the diet was found to be substantially different, with a significant and substantially smaller proportion of sandeels being consumed in March and May. There were also differences in the number of porpoises starving between the two time periods (33% in spring 2002 and 2003 died of starvation, but only 5% in the baseline period). This suggests that a lower proportion of sandeels in the diet of porpoises in spring increases the likelihood of starvation. Therefore, we suggest that the negative effects of climate change on sandeel availability may have serious negative effects on harbour porpoise populations in the North Sea by increasing the likelihood of starvation in spring.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-188
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Volume3
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2007

Keywords

  • harbour porpoise
  • sandeels
  • climate change
  • marine mammals

Cite this

Linking sandeel consumption and the likelihood of starvation in harbour porpoises in the Scottish North Sea : Could climate change mean more starving porpoises? / MacLeod, Colin D; Santos Vazquez, Maria Begona; Reid, Robert J.; Scott, Beth Emily; Pierce, Graham John.

In: Biology Letters, Vol. 3, No. 2, 22.04.2007, p. 185-188.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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abstract = "Sandeels are known to be negatively affected by climate change in a number of ways. This study investigated whether these changes are affecting the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), a species which consumes sandeels. Porpoise diet was examined in spring (March-May), a critical time of year for survival when sandeels are important prey, from 1993 to 2001 to provide baseline information on the proportion of sandeels consumed. When data from spring 2002 and 2003 were compared to these baseline data, the diet was found to be substantially different, with a significant and substantially smaller proportion of sandeels being consumed in March and May. There were also differences in the number of porpoises starving between the two time periods (33{\%} in spring 2002 and 2003 died of starvation, but only 5{\%} in the baseline period). This suggests that a lower proportion of sandeels in the diet of porpoises in spring increases the likelihood of starvation. Therefore, we suggest that the negative effects of climate change on sandeel availability may have serious negative effects on harbour porpoise populations in the North Sea by increasing the likelihood of starvation in spring.",
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