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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 391:183-197 (2009)  -  DOI:

Combining vessel-based surveys and tracking data to identify key marine areas for seabirds

M. Louzao1,5,*, J. Bécares2, B. Rodríguez2, K .D. Hyrenbach3, A. Ruiz4, J. M. Arcos2

1Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, CNRS, 79360 Villiers en Bois, France
2Sociedad Española de Ornitología/BirdLife, C/Múrcia 2-8, local 13, 08026 Barcelona, Spain
3Duke University Marine Laboratory, 135 Duke Marine Laboratory Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
4Sociedad Española de Ornitología/BirdLife, C/Melquíades Biencinto 34, 28053 Madrid, Spain
5Present address: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ, Permoserstraße 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany

ABSTRACT: An understanding of the distribution and habitat associations of far-ranging marine predators is being increasingly applied to protect these species from anthropogenic threats at sea (e.g. oil spills and fisheries bycatch). Within this framework, this research on Cory’s shearwater Calonectris diomedea integrates vessel-based survey and tracking data to provide 2 distinct, yet complementary, perspectives of the habitats of this species in the western Mediterranean during incubation in June and chick rearing in August of 2007. We used a hierarchical modelling approach to (1) delineate the foraging habitat of the species using vessel-based surveys and (2) identify its feeding habitat based on tracking data within the Information-Theoretic framework. Our habitat modelling analyses suggest that shearwaters respond to complex bio-physical coupling, illustrated by their association with frontal features and elevated ocean productivity. Our models yielded moderate predictions of Cory’s shearwater habitats within 2 distinct spatial scales. At the mesoscale, the foraging range of the species comprised the continental and insular shelf-slope waters of the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands, between the Gulf of Lions to the north and Cape Palos to the south. At the coarse scale, the tracking data highlighted important feeding areas within this larger foraging range: 3 continental shelf-slope ‘hotspots’—(1) Gulf of Lions, (2) Cape Creus–Barcelona–Ebro Delta and (3) Cape La Nao–Cape Palos; from north to south—as well as the insular shelf-slope areas around the Balearic Islands. These results match previous observations of the foraging range and feeding patterns of the species, and are consistent with the interpretation of the regional oceanography. This study highlights how the integration of tracking and vessel-based survey data can provide a wider understanding of the predictability of aggregation (i.e. hotspots) and the key oceanographic habitats of far-ranging seabirds at multiple spatial scales. Thus, complementary data integration is a step forward in conservation studies of far-ranging marine top predators.

KEY WORDS: Calonectris diomedea · Cory’s shearwater · Feeding hotspot · Foraging range · Habitat modelling · Important Bird Area (IBA) · Information-Theoretic approach · Ocean remote sensing · Conservation · Western Mediterranean

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Cite this article as: Louzao M, Bécares J, Rodríguez B, Hyrenbach KD, Ruiz A, Arcos JM (2009) Combining vessel-based surveys and tracking data to identify key marine areas for seabirds. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 391:183-197.

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