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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 451:231-243 (2012)  -  DOI:

Adding the ocean to the study of seabirds: a brief history of at-sea seabird research

David G. Ainley1, Christine A. Ribic2, Eric J. Woehler3

1H.T. Harvey & Associates, 983 University Avenue, Los Gatos, California 95032, USA
2US Geological Survey Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA
3School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7005, Australia

ABSTRACT: We review the history of how research directed towards marine ornithology has led to an appreciation of seabirds as highly specialized marine organisms. Beginning with R. C. Murphy (Pacific), V. C. Wynne-Edwards (Atlantic), and associates in the early 1900s, the research approach grew from an emphasis on seabird single-species ecology to an appreciation of interacting species assemblages and finally to seabirds being considered as important components of marine food webs. After a slow, drawn-out beginning, the initial main impetus for developing the field was a need to map seabird abundance and distribution tied to understanding impacts of continental shelf resource exploitation. Coalescing during the 1970s to 1980s to facilitate this line of research were 6 factors: (1) ability to identify birds at sea; (2) standardization of techniques to quantify abundance; (3) resources and techniques for mapping; (4) appreciation of how scale affects seabird relationships to hydrographic features and patchy prey; (5) development of computing power and appropriate statistics; and (6) seabird biologists becoming embedded in, as well as organizing, multidisciplinary marine research projects. Future advances in understanding the role of seabirds in marine food webs will be made by seabird biologists participating in multidisciplinary projects using grid-like surveys relative to oceanographic features in combination with instrumentation that reveals the finer details of seabird foraging behaviors.

KEY WORDS: At-sea surveys · Food-web structure · Foraging ecology · Seabird · Seabird habitat

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Cite this article as: Ainley DG, Ribic CA, Woehler EJ (2012) Adding the ocean to the study of seabirds: a brief history of at-sea seabird research. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 451:231-243.

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