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Nest characteristics determine nest microclimate and affect breeding output in an Antarctic seabird, the Wilson's storm-petrel.

08:00 EDT 13th June 2019 | BioPortfolio

Summary of "Nest characteristics determine nest microclimate and affect breeding output in an Antarctic seabird, the Wilson's storm-petrel."

The importance of nest characteristics for birds breeding in the extreme climate conditions of polar regions, has been greatly understudied. Nest parameters, like nest orientation, exposure and insulation, could strongly influence microclimate and protection against precipitation of the nest, thereby affecting breeding success. A burrow nesting seabird, the Wilson's storm-petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) is an excellent model species to investigate the importance of nest characteristics, as it is the smallest endotherm breeding in the Antarctic. Here, we investigated the effects of nest parameters such as internal nest dimensions, nest micro-topography and thermal properties of the nest burrow and the influence of weather conditions on breeding output, measured as hatching success, chick survival, and chick growth. We collected data during the austral summers of 2017 and 2018, on King George Island, maritime Antarctica. Our results showed that the thermal microclimate of the nest burrow was significantly improved by a small entrance size, a low nest height, and insulation and tended to be enhanced by a low wind exposition index and an eastern nest site orientation. In addition, an eastern nest site orientation significantly reduced the chance of snow blocking. However, the relationships between nest characteristics and breeding output were complex and might be affected by other parameters like food availability and parental quality. The relation between chick growth and nest air temperature remained especially indistinct. Nevertheless, our results indicate that nest characteristics that enhance the thermal microclimate and reduce the risk of snow blocking favoured both hatching success and chick survival. Due to climate change in the Antarctic, snowfall is expected to increase in the future, which will likely enhance the importance of nest characteristics that determine snow blocking. Additionally, despite global warming, thermally favourable nest burrows will likely still be advantageous in the highly variable and challenging Antarctic climate.

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This article was published in the following journal.

Name: PloS one
ISSN: 1932-6203
Pages: e0217708

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