SPECIES

Common Murre Uria aalge Scientific name definitions

David G. Ainley, David N. Nettleship, and Anne E. Storey
Version: 2.0 — Published August 6, 2021

Priorities for Future Research

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The Common Murre is not globally threatened. Population sizes and trends are known for a number of areas, and a minimum total breeding population is estimated at ca. 16.6 million birds with ca. 7.4 million in western North America, 1.8 million in eastern North America, 4.8 million in Eurasia, and 2.6 million in eastern Asia. These are minimal estimates as some mixed breeding sites containing Thick-billed Murres (Uria lomvia) were not separated by species. All are highly sensitive to the influence of human activities, in part a result of the species’ high-energy life style.

Enough evidence exists to demonstrate that monitoring and management of individual murre breeding sites, rather than complexes of sites, is less useful than the application of metapopulation theory (see Demography and Populations: Population Spatial Metrics); brings into question what actually is a murre ‘colony.’ Through a careful banding and resighting program (as in Britain), the concept of metapopulations could be brought to bear on management strategies. In this application, a metapopulation is a cluster of demographically interacting murre breeding sites; that is, emigration and immigration occur within the cluster at detectable annual or near-to-annual levels. This is not to say that growth or decline at individual sites should not be monitored, but changes in management particularly to address decline should consider regional processes and solutions.

The southeastern Bering Sea shelf is the site of the largest remaining Northern Hemisphere industrial fishery (for pollock Gadus chalcogrammus). A great start was made to understand the system's food-web dynamics in the 1970s (PROBES, etc.). Of late, despite known major climate and ecosystem changes in the Bering Sea (see citations by 250, 139, 540, 545, 251), multidisciplinary investigation of food-web dynamics of this system, in which Common Murre is a major player, has become less integrated in approach. A year-round effort is needed that includes regular sampling of middle to upper trophic levels; that is, those levels where pollock are major components. It continues to be irresponsible to manage a fishery using only half a data set (fishery-derived catch-per-effort statistics). The same holds true for herring (Clupea spp.; see 231), as well as for capelin (Mallotus villosus) and several other forage species (cod Gadus spp. and sandlance Ammodytes spp.) in North Atlantic waters, particularly populations in the Barents Sea, North Sea, Faeroes, Iceland, eastern Newfoundland, Grand Banks, and Gulf of Maine.

Impacts of fishery mismanagement can be gradual, as in the removal of large cod which actually benefitted seabirds competing for prey (238, 252), or can be rapid and catastrophic, such as the collapse of the Barents Sea capelin population and subsequent decrease of murres at principal colonies (e.g., 83% decline at Bjørnøya between 1986 and 1987, from 250,000 to 36,000 pairs; 109). Declines in portions of the breeding range in both oceans are due largely to overfishing, oil pollution and petroleum developments, unregulated egging and hunting (especially in Iceland, Faeroes, Atlantic Canada), and introduced alien predators (especially Alaska). On the other hand, decreases can be complex, involving the recovery of competing or predating species (e.g., 159).

Long-term monitoring and research, efforts to quantify impacts from anthropogenic factors, and restoration efforts will undoubtedly continue to improve and expand, especially where resource agencies have demonstrated oil impacts within a litigation framework (see, e.g., 550). Devising new ways to restore murres and other seabirds is a challenge, but results from recent projects to date are encouraging (e.g., 634). Use of oiling rates from beached-bird programs to measure success of efforts to reduce oil pollution needs to be explored.

It is ironic, given the millions of dollars spent annually in North America, directly and indirectly on murre research and management, that even in the twenty-first century, few major efforts have been initiated, analogous to that in Scotland, Wales, Norway, or the Farallon Islands in California, to understand population-specific demography of this species under different conditions. While population dynamics certainly can be viewed short-term, for example decreases owing to major mortality events (e.g., 456), there are also anomalously positive years of high reproductive success that lead to opposite trends that are never reported at least in the media. All aspects of demography require investigation to understand population change among murres and other seabird species.

To summarize, the challenge to seabird research and management over the next several decades, for Common Murre and other highly-specialized seabird species, are global in nature. Thus, the magnitude of the task is enormous and can be attained only through unprecedented levels of cooperation among seabird biologists and the science institutions and organizations that support them. Researchers have to work effectively amongst themselves and expand their horizons markedly to become more multi-disciplinary in their approach to problem-solving. Finding solutions to management and research questions will require close working relationships with fisheries biologists, oceanographers, and climatologists (as an example of how this has been achieved, see 167, 249). Research efforts will have to be collaborative, spanning continents and oceans, and dependent on archival databases and exchange of information. Overall, seabird management should occur largely at the ecosystem level: i.e., protect the island or mainland site and its nearby waters, and those areas known to be important outside the breeding season, and one manages for seabirds and their welfare. By managing seabirds successfully, we will not only safeguard a uniquely rich group of marine animals including the Common Murre, but also contribute to maintaining the health of the world’s oceans

Recommended Citation

Ainley, D. G., D. N. Nettleship, and A. E. Storey (2021). Common Murre (Uria aalge), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, P. G. Rodewald, and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.commur.02