Food availability comprises a complex interaction of factors that integrates abundance, taxonomic composition, accessibility, and quality of the prey base. The relationship between food availability and reproductive performance can be assessed via the nutritional stress (NSH) and junkfood (JFH) hypotheses. With respect to reproductive success, NSH posits that a deficiency in any of the aforementioned metrics can have a deleterious effect on a population via poor reproductive success. JFH, a component of NSH, posits specifically that it is a decline in the quality of food (i.e. energy density and lipid content) that leads to poor reproductive success. We assessed each in relation to reproductive success in a piscivorous seabird, the black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla. We measured productivity, taxonomic composition, frequency, size, and quality of meals delivered to nestlings from 1996 to 1999 at 6 colonies in Alaska, USA, 3 each in Prince William Sound and Lower Cook Inlet. Productivity varied widely among colony-years. Pacific herring Clupea pallasi, sand lance Ammodytes hexapterus, and capelin Mallotus villosus comprised ca. 80% of the diet among colony-years, and each was characterized by relatively high energy density. Diet quality for kittiwakes in this region therefore remained uniformly high during this study. Meal delivery rate and meal size were quite variable among colony-years, however, and best explained the variability in productivity. Parent kittiwakes appeared to select prey that were energy dense and that maximized the biomass provisioned to broods. While these results fail to support JFH, they do provide substantial support for NSH. ?? Inter-Research 2006.
Additional publication details
Assessing the nutritional stress hypothesis: Relative influence of diet quantity and quality on seabird productivity