What Dead Birds Tell Us About a Warming World

Dr. Julia K. Parrish

Lowell A. and Frankie L. Wakefield Professor of Ocean Fishery Sciences Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the College of the Environment, University of Washington Executive Director of the COASST citizen science program.

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Seabirds are frequently cited as marine ecosystem indicator species. Since 2014, the North Pacific has experienced multiple seabird mass mortality events (MMEs) collectively encompassing several million birds. During this same period of time several types of warming have occurred, including the northeast Pacific marine heatwave, an El Niño event, and the intensification of arctic/sub-arctic warming in the Bering and southern Chukchi Sea. The relationship between warming events and the likelihood, onset timing, duration, spatial extent and magnitude of MMEs can be explored using citizen/community science beached bird data spanning 30 years of monitoring from four programs stretching from central California north to the Bering Strait region, and involving hundreds of coastal residents. These data indicate that sudden, prolonged warming resulted in a demonstrative uptick in seabird mortality, as the system reset to a lower carrying capacity for these upper-trophic predators.

Headshot of Dr. Julia K. Parrish

Julia K. Parrish is a marine scientist whose research follows three major routes: marine conservation, seabird ecology, and citizen science. She is the Executive Director of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a project that enlists participants from California to Alaska to walk beaches in search of dead birds and marine debris. Additionally, she is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the College of the Environment. She holds the Lowell A. and Frankie L. Wakefield Endowed Professorship, is a AAAS fellow, a Leopold Leadership Fellow, and was one of 12 “Champions of Change” invited to the White House to speak on public engagement in science, and scientific literacy.