Where available, census data on seabirds often do not extend beyond a few years or decades, challenging our ability to identify drivers of population change and to develop conservation policies. Here, we reconstruct long-term population dynamics of northern common eiders (Somateria mollissima borealis). We analyzed sterols together with stable nitrogen isotopes in dated pond sediment cores to show that eiders underwent broadscale population declines over the 20th century at Canadian subarctic breeding sites. Likely, a rapidly growing Greenland population, combined with relocation of Inuit to larger Arctic communities and associated increases in the availability of firearms and motors during the early to mid-20th century, generated more efficient hunting practices, which in turn reduced the number of adult eiders breeding at Canadian nesting islands. Our paleolimnological approach highlights that current and local monitoring windows for many sensitive seabird species may be inadequate for making key conservation decisions.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Department of Biology

Hargan, K.E. (Kathryn E.), Grant Gilchrist, H. (H.), Clyde, N.M.T. (Nikolas M.T.), Iverson, S.A. (Samuel A.), Forbes, M, Kimpe, L.E. (Linda E.), … Blais, J.M. (Jules M.). (2019). Multicentury perspective assessing the sustainability of the historical harvest of seaducks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(17), 8425–8430. doi:10.1073/pnas.1814057116