CR 39:115-129 (2009)  -  doi:10.3354/cr00798

REVIEW
Pros and cons of using seabirds as ecological indicators

J. M. Durant1,*, D. Ø. Hjermann1, M. Frederiksen2, J. B. Charrassin3, Y. Le Maho4, P. S. Sabarros1, R. J. M. Crawford5,6, N. Chr. Stenseth1,7 

1Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of Biology, University of Oslo, PO Box 1066 Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway
2National Environmental Research Institute, Department of Arctic Environment, Aarhus University, Frederiksborgvej 399, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
3Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat: Expérimentation et Approches Numériques, Département Milieux et Peuplements Aquatiques, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 43 rue Cuvier, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France
4Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien, Département Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, UMR 7178 CNRS-ULP, 23 rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasbourg Cedex 2, France
5Marine and Coastal Management, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Private Bag X2, Rogge Bay 8012, South Africa
6Animal Demography Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
7Institute of Marine Research, Flødevigen Marine Research Station, 4817 His, Norway

ABSTRACT: Climate change and overfishing are increasingly causing unanticipated changes in marine ecosystems (e.g. shifts in species dominance). In order to understand and anticipate these changes, there is a crucial need for indicators that summarise large quantities of information into a few relevant and accessible signals. Seabirds have been suggested as good candidates for ecological indicators of the marine environment; however, few studies have critically evaluated their value as such. We review the role of seabirds as ecological indicators, and discuss their limitations and drawbacks, as compared to other types of indicators. In addition, we highlight the statistical consequences of inverse inference when using seabird data as indicators. We discuss the use of integrated indices and the use of seabirds as autonomous samplers of the marine environment. Finally, we highlight the necessary steps preceding the use of seabirds as indicators. We conclude that, in order to use seabird time series properly, the use of recent advances both in statistics and in remote sensing is a way to move forward. This, along with the assessment of their usefulness, should enable us to use seabird indicators appropriately for managing urgent conservation problems.


KEY WORDS: Food chain · Oceanography · Statistics · Conservation · Ecosystem-based management · Telemetry


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Cite this article as: Durant JM, Hjermann DØ, Frederiksen M, Charrassin JB and others (2009) Pros and cons of using seabirds as ecological indicators. Clim Res 39:115-129

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