Effect of prey spatial dynamic on spatial synchrony of breeding success in the black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla

Synchrony in demographic rates between spatially disjunct populations is a widespread phenomenon, although the underlying mechanisms are often not known. This synchrony and its spatial patterns can have important consequences for the long-term persistence of metapopulations and can be used to infer drivers of population dynamics. Along the coast of Norway are breeding many seabirds in more or less important colonies. Among these seabirds is the black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla. A recent study showed that the spatial dynamics of the British kittiwakes’ main prey appeared to play some role in generating synchrony in long-term patterns (Olin et al. 2020). These results lend some support to the hypothesis developed by Furness et al. (1996) and Frederiksen et al. (2005) that spatial synchrony in kittiwake breeding success in the UK is driven by the spatial structure of prey populations. In the Norwegian-Barents Sea system, the story is potentially more complex, most colonies being located in the Norwegian current, a main medium of fish larvae circulation in the area. Indeed, many important commercial fish stocks are spawning along the Norwegian coast (herring, cod, haddock); early-life stages i.e. eggs and larvae then drift northward with the Norwegian coastal current back to the Barents Sea.  


In the master thesis, we would like to redo the analysis of Olin et al. 2020 using data from seapop / seatrack projects for the Norwegian-Barents Sea system. We expect to find a similar effect of the kittiwakes’ main prey spatial dynamic on their breeding success but with a lag following a south-north distribution gradient.


Objectives of the Master thesis:

"The effect of difference in phenology of drift larvae and plankton productivity on the recruitment of harvested fish species."

  • What we know:

Black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), is a pelagic surface feeding species. Although being classified as endangered along the coast of mainland Norway, near threatened in Svalbard and decreasing population trends over much of its range the Black-legged kittiwakes are wide spread and abundant in the North Atlantic and considered "least concern" by the IUCN. Black-legged kittiwakes feed predominantly on marine invertebrates (krill) and fish (herring, sandeel).


What we have:

From SEATRACK project map the non-breeding distribution of seabirds breeding in colonies encircling the Labrador, Greenland, Barents, Norwegian, North and Irish Seas, which includes colonies in Canada, Greenland, Russia, Norway incl. Svalbard and Jan Mayen, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Ireland and Great Britain. SEATRACK has access to first time breeding of kittiwake on 6 (7) colonies on the coast of Norway (Runde, Sklinna, Røst, Hjelmsøya, Hornøya, Kape Crutik and Bjørnøya)


What will the student do:

Using advanced statistical modelling (such as Generalized Additive Model) the student will examine spatial patterns in the synchrony of breeding success in kittiwakes. This thesis will thus require computer work and statistical competences (R language).


  • What effect:

We expect that depending on the timing of the fish larval drift that the spatial synchrony of the kittiwake breeding along the coast of Norway to be lagged and that the breeding occurs in a wave south north.


  • What we look at:

Effect of prey spatial dynamic (e.g., herring, copepod, sandeel…) on the spatial breeding of black-legged kittiwakes.


  • What the student will learn:

With this thesis the student will get an intrinsic knowledge of seabird biology and of the Norwegian-Barents Sea ecosystem and its trophic interactions. The student will get a hands-on experience and supervision on the use of a versatile programming software (R-core) and advanced statistical modelling. Those are common tools used to solve ecological questions across topics. We expect the master thesis to be publishable in a good international journal.


Working environment

The Master work will be conducted within the Marine Ecology Group at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis of the Department of Biosciences (http://bit.ly/1psRR6n). The marine group is a multidisciplinary group that bring together ca 15 researchers, PhD and Master Students working on the domains of ecology and statistic. It has shown over a decade competence in answering ecological questions around climate change and marine productivity through statistical analysis and interdisciplinary collaborations.

In addition, part of the Master training will take place at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) in the FRAM center – High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment. NINA is a major actor in Norway in ecology research with main responsibility to the projects Seatrack and Seapop. Fieldwork possibilities will be considered during the stay at NINA.

The Master will be able to train in a friendly environment her presentation skills at the monthly marine meetings.



September 2020 – September 2022



Joël Durant (CEES/IBV University of Oslo)

Per Fauchald (NINA Tromsø)



- Olin AB, Banas NS, Wright PJ, Heath MR, Nager RG (2020) Spatial synchrony of breeding success in the blacklegged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla reflects the spatial dynamics of its sandeel prey. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 638, 177-190. doi:10.3354/meps13252

- Furness RW, Greenstreet SPR, Walsh PM (1996) Spatial and temporal variability in the breeding success of seabirds around the British Isles: Evidence for distinct sandeel stocks? ICES Cooperative Research Report No. 216. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, Copenhagen, p 63–65

- Frederiksen M, Wright PJ, Harris MP, Mavor RA, Heubeck M, Wanless S (2005) Regional patterns of kittiwake Rissa tridactyla breeding success are related to variability in sandeel recruitment. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 300, 201-211. doi:10.3354/meps300201.

Publisert 5. okt. 2020 10:39 - Sist endret 5. okt. 2020 10:39

Omfang (studiepoeng)