Population trends in the Slavonian grebe Podiceps auritus (L.) and Chironomidae (Diptera) at a Scottish loch

S.J. Brooks (Corresponding author), V.J. Jones, R.J. Telford, P.G. Appleby, E. Watson, S. McGowan, S. Benn

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Loch Ruthven holds the largest British population of the rare water-bird Podiceps auritus, the Slavonian or horned grebe. The breeding success of this bird has fluctuated annually since records began in 1970. To investigate whether these trends are linked to the abundance of chironomid midges, which are an important food-source for the grebe chicks, we analysed a sediment core from the lake, which was sliced at 2. 5-mm intervals and provided near-annual sampling resolution. We also analysed diatoms and algal pigments in the lake sediments and inferred changes in total phosphorus from the diatom assemblage to determine whether changes in lake productivity have influenced the abundance of chironomids. Trends in grebe productivity, chironomid abundance and algal assemblages were compared against climate data to determine whether climate, specifically, the North Atlantic Oscillation, was the ultimate driver of the trends we recorded. Our results show that grebe breeding success is positively correlated with chironomid abundance and chironomid abundance is positively correlated with diatom-inferred total phosphorus. Lake productivity and chironomid abundance began to rise early in the twentieth century and continued to rise on a steeper trajectory from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Since the mid-1960s, chironomid abundance began to fluctuate erratically and since 1970 was in phase with grebe productivity, with the grebe trends most plausibly lagging by 1 year. These trends appear to correlate with inter-annual fluctuations in diatom-inferred total phosphorus. No correlation was found between grebe productivity or chironomid abundance and climate variables, suggesting that the size of the chironomid population and breeding success of Podiceps auritus at Loch Ruthven is resource-linked.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-644
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Chironomids
  • Diatoms
  • Lake productivity
  • Paleoecology
  • Population dynamics
  • Slavonian grebe


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