Broad-scale multi-species declines in populations of North American sea ducks for unknown reasons is cause for management concern. Oceanic regime shifts have been associated with rapid changes in ecosystem structure of the North Pacific and Bering Sea. However, relatively little is known about potential effects of these changes in oceanic conditions on marine bird populations at broad scales. I examined changes in North American breeding populations of sea ducks from 1957 to 2011 in relation to potential oceanic regime shifts in the North Pacific in 1977, 1989, and 1998. There was strong support for population-level effects of regime shifts in 1977 and 1989, but little support for an effect of the 1998 shift. The continental-level effects of these regime shifts differed across species groups and time. Based on patterns of sea duck population dynamics associated with regime shifts, it is unclear if the mechanism of change relates to survival or reproduction. Results of this analysis support the hypothesis that population size and trends of North American sea ducks are strongly influenced by oceanic conditions. The perceived population declines appear to have halted >20 years ago, and populations have been relatively stable or increasing since that time. Given these results, we should reasonably expect dramatic changes in sea duck population status and trends with future oceanic regime shifts.
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Changes in size and trends of North American sea duck populations associated with North Pacific oceanic regime shifts