MEPS 534:235-249 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11370

Patterns of space use in sympatric marine colonial predators reveal scales of spatial partitioning

Esther L. Jones1,2,*, Bernie J. McConnell1, Sophie Smout1,2, Philip S. Hammond1,2, Callan D. Duck1, Christopher D. Morris1, David Thompson1, Deborah J. F. Russell1,2, Cecile Vincent3, Michelle Cronin4, Ruth J. Sharples5, Jason Matthiopoulos6

1Sea Mammal Research Unit, Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 8LB, UK
2Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling, The Observatory, Buchanan Gardens, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9LZ, UK
3CEBC, UMR 7372 CNRS/University of La Rochelle, Institut du Littoral et de l’Environnement (ILE), 2 rue Olympe de Gouges, 17 000 La Rochelle, France
4Coastal & Marine Research Centre, University College Cork, Naval Base, Haulbowline, Co. Cork, UK
5Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, IMAS Sandy Bay, Private Bag 129, Hobart, TAS 7001, Australia
6University of Glasgow, Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, Graham Kerr Building, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Species distribution maps can provide important information to focus conservation efforts and enable spatial management of human activities. Two sympatric marine predators, grey seals Halichoerus grypus and harbour seals Phoca vitulina, have overlapping ranges on land and at sea but contrasting population dynamics around Britain: whilst grey seals have generally increased, harbour seals have shown significant regional declines. We analysed 2 decades of at-sea movement data and terrestrial count data from these species to produce high resolution, broad-scale maps of distribution and associated uncertainty to inform conservation and management. Our results showed that grey seals use offshore areas connected to their haul-out sites by prominent corridors, and harbour seals primarily stay within 50 km of the coastline. Both species show fine-scale offshore spatial segregation off the east coast of Britain and broad-scale partitioning off western Scotland. These results illustrate that, for broad-scale marine spatial planning, the conservation needs of harbour seals (primarily inshore, the exception being selected offshore usage areas) are different from those of grey seals (up to 100 km offshore and corridors connecting these areas to haul-out sites). More generally, our results illustrate the importance of detailed knowledge of marine predator distributions to inform marine spatial planning; for instance, spatial prioritisation is not necessarily the most effective spatial planning strategy even when conserving species with similar taxonomy.


KEY WORDS: Halichoerus grypus · Phoca vitulina · Density estimation · Propagating uncertainty · Species distribution · Telemetry · Area-based conservation


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Cite this article as: Jones EL, McConnell BJ, Smout S, Hammond PS and others (2015) Patterns of space use in sympatric marine colonial predators reveal scales of spatial partitioning. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 534:235-249. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11370

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