Cannibalism occurs regularly across a broad range of taxa with a variety of ecological and evolutionary consequences. Rises in sea surface temperature (SST) have been linked to increased cannibalism in some species, including polar bears (Ursus maritimus), Peruvian anchovy (Engraulis ringens), and Peruvian hake (Merluccius gayi peruanus), and might be expected in birds that depend on marine food webs for sustenance. Increased SSTs are associated with lowered ocean thermoclines and weakened upwellings. These changes, in turn, lead to decreased productivity in surface water and movement of surviving forage fish to deeper water, thereby food-stressing surface feeders such as gulls, diminishing energy intake and lengthening foraging bouts. While controlling for a suite of other environmental factors, we tested whether egg cannibalism and hatching success were independent of rises in local SST at a colony of Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucescens) and Glaucous-winged × Western Gull (L. glaucescens × occidentalis) hybrids during 2006–2011 on Protection Island, Washington, USA. Cannibalism increased and hatching success decreased with rises in SST. It is unclear if rises in SST impact overall population trends. Gulls are multiyear breeders; if they experience reproductive failure during one or several El Niño-Southern Oscillation–related events, they typically have other opportunities to breed. With rising SSTs associated with climate change, however, increasing levels of cannibalism could lead to declining populations in the absence of compensatory adaptive modifications or range shifts.
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Vol. 116 • No. 1