Effects of the North Atlantic Oscillation on sea ice breeding habitats of harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus) across the North Atlantic
Harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus) are an abundant and commercially exploited species of phocid seal in the North Atlantic. Harp seals are entirely dependent on annual sea ice for breeding purposes and the distribution, abundance, and constitution of sea ice in this region are subject to tremendous interannual variability. As such, harp seal population dynamics are likely intimately tied to climate variability and global change. We used satellite-derived images of sea ice cover to determine trends in available habitat at the four major harp seal breeding areas in the North Atlantic, and assessed linkages amongst sea ice conditions and variability in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) during 1978-2006. The White Sea breeding area had the highest annual ice concentrations, while the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Front regions were the most variable over time. We confirmed a consistent positive correlation between the NAO index and the amount of sea ice cover in Western North Atlantic breeding areas off Canada. Furthermore, we found an opposite and consistent negative correlation between the NAO and sea ice cover in the eastern-most breeding areas, leading to an out-of-phase signal between the Western and Eastern (particularly the White Sea) North Atlantic. These results indicate that sea ice dynamics in the breeding regions of harp seals are controlled, to some extent, by the phase of the NAO and its effects on weather across the North Atlantic. Previous studies indicate that poor ice conditions can have negative effects on harp seal survival and the consistent relationships between breeding habitat and NAO conditions that are described here have implications for both the biology and management of harp seal populations. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.
Friedlaender, AS; Johnston, DW; Halpin, PN
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