Relationships between Long-Term Demography and Weather in a Sub-Arctic Population of Common Eider
Effects of local weather on individuals and populations are key drivers of wildlife responses to climatic changes. However, studies often do not last long enough to identify weather conditions that influence demographic processes, or to capture rare but extreme weather events at appropriate scales. In Iceland, farmers collect nest down of wild common eider Somateria mollissima and many farmers count nests within colonies annually, which reflects annual variation in the number of breeding females. We collated these data for 17 colonies. Synchrony in breeding numbers was generally low between colonies. We evaluated 1) demographic relationships with weather in nesting colonies of common eider across Iceland during 1900–2007; and 2) impacts of episodic weather events (aberrantly cold seasons or years) on subsequent breeding numbers. Except for episodic events, breeding numbers within a colony generally had no relationship to local weather conditions in the preceding year. However, common eider are sexually mature at 2–3 years of age and we found a 3-year time lag between summer weather and breeding numbers for three colonies, indicating a positive effect of higher pressure, drier summers for one colony, and a negative effect of warmer, calmer summers for two colonies. These findings may represent weather effects on duckling production and subsequent recruitment. Weather effects were mostly limited to a few aberrant years causing reductions in breeding numbers, i.e. declines in several colonies followed severe winters (1918) and some years with high NAO (1992, 1995). In terms of life history, adult survival generally is high and stable and probably only markedly affected by inclement weather or aberrantly bad years. Conversely, breeding propensity of adults and duckling production probably do respond more to annual weather variations; i.e. unfavorable winter conditions for adults increase probability of death or skipped breeding, whereas favorable summers can promote boom years for recruitment.