Thiamine deficiency impairs common eider (Somateria mollissima) reproduction in the field.
The Baltic Sea population of the common eider (Somateria mollissima) has declined dramatically during the last two decades. Recently, widespread episodic thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency has been demonstrated in feral birds and suggested to contribute significantly to declining populations. Here we show that the decline of the common eider population in the Baltic Sea is paralleled by high mortality of the pulli a few days after hatch, owing to thiamine deficiency and probably also thereby associated abnormal behaviour resulting in high gull predation. An experiment with artificially incubated common eider eggs collected in the field revealed that thiamine treatment of pulli had a therapeutic effect on the thiamine status of the brain and prevented death. The mortality was 53% in untreated specimens, whereas it was only 7% in thiamine treated specimens. Inability to dive was also linked to brain damage typical for thiamine deficiency. Our results demonstrate how thiamine deficiency causes a range of symptoms in the common eider pulli, as well as massive die-offs a few days after hatch, which probably are the major explanation of the recent dramatic population declines.