Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis


Wildlife and Fisheries Biology

Thesis Type

Honors College

First Advisor

Dr. Allan Strong

Second Advisor

Dr. James D Murdoch

Third Advisor

Robin Corcoran


Alaska, climate variability, El Niño, incubation, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, nest attentiveness


Seabird reproductive success relies on forage availability not only when adults are feeding nestlings, but also during the pre-breeding period when adults must secure nutrients for egg production and incubation. Ocean conditions, particularly temperature, may have significant effects on the availability of food resources both during and prior to nest initiation. Incubation behavior has been proposed as an indicator of the impacts of ocean climate variability on seabird reproductive success. Little is known, however, about the incubation behavior of seabirds such as the Kittlitz’s Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris). The Kittlitz’s Murrelet is a small seabird that breeds on the western coast of Alaska, USA. The species experienced rapid population declines in the 1980s and 1990s and remains a rare species with low reproductive success. To determine the influence of warming sea surface temperatures (SSTs) on the incubation behavior of the Kittlitz’s Murrelet, I analyzed digital camera images collected at nests (n = 68) from 2009 to 2015 on Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Kittlitz’s Murrelets must attend nests at rates exceeding 94.7% for the probability of hatch to exceed the probability of nest failure pre-hatch. A logistic regression indicated a significant negative relationship between ocean temperature and parental attentiveness during the incubation period. SSTs taken from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Buoy Database indicate El Niño conditions in 2015, and total nest attentiveness was most variable in this year. Parental attentiveness of the Kittlitz’s Murrelet during incubation may be an important indicator of environmental stress caused by warming SSTs. Climate models predict increasing intensity and frequency of El Niño events, leading to concerns regarding population-level impacts. Further studies should explore the interactions between ocean temperature, initiation date, nest attentiveness, and nest success.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.