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Predicting the distribution of foraging seabirds during a period of heightened environmental variability


Evans, R and Lea, M-A and Hindell, MA, Predicting the distribution of foraging seabirds during a period of heightened environmental variability, Ecological Applications, 31, (5) Article e02343. ISSN 1051-0761 (2021) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

2021 by the Ecological Society of America

DOI: doi:10.1002/eap.2343


Quantifying the links between the marine environment, prey-occurrence, and predator distribution is the first step towards identifying areas of biological importance for marine spatial planning. Events such as marine heatwaves result in an anomalous change in the physical environment, which can lead to shifts in the structure, biomass and distribution of lower trophic levels. As central-place foragers, seabirds are vulnerable to changes in their foraging grounds during the breeding season. We first quantified spatio-temporal variability in the occurrence and biomass of prey in response to an abrupt change in oceanography as a result of a marine heatwave event. Secondly, using multivariate techniques and machine learning, we investigated if differences in the foraging technique and prey of seabirds resulted in varying responses to changes in prey occurrence and the environment over a 2.5 year period. We found that the main variables correlated with seabird distribution were also important in structuring the occurrence and biomass of prey; SST, current speed, mixed-layer depth and bathymetry. Both zooplankton biomass and the occurrence of fish schools exhibited negative relationships with temperature, and temperature was subsequently an important variable in determining seabird distribution. We were able to establish correlations between the distribution of prey and the spatio-temporal distribution of albatross, little penguins and common-diving petrels. We were unable to find a correlation between the distribution of prey and that of short-tailed shearwaters and fairy prions. For high-use coastal areas, the delineation of important foraging regions is essential to balance human use of an area with the needs of marine predators; particularly seabirds.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:predator-prey relationships, trophic interactions, boosted regression trees / BRT, foraging, hotspot, marine heatwaves, seabirds, species-distribution modelling
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Marine systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of pelagic marine ecosystems
UTAS Author:Evans, R (Dr Rhian Evans)
UTAS Author:Lea, M-A (Professor Mary-Anne Lea)
UTAS Author:Hindell, MA (Professor Mark Hindell)
ID Code:143972
Year Published:2021
Web of Science® Times Cited:4
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2021-04-12
Last Modified:2021-10-13

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