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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 648:207-219 (2020)  -  DOI:

Influence of environmental variability on harbour porpoise movement

Dominique Stalder1,2, Floris M. van Beest1, Signe Sveegaard1, Rune Dietz1, Jonas Teilmann1, Jacob Nabe-Nielsen1,*

1Section for Marine Mammal Research, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark
2Present address: Department of Fish Ecology and Evolution, EAWAG Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, 6047 Kastanienbaum, Switzerland
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena is a small marine predator with a high conservation status in Europe and the USA. To protect the species effectively, it is crucial to understand its movement patterns and how the distribution of intensively used foraging areas can be predicted from environmental conditions. Here, we investigated the influence of both static and dynamic environmental conditions on large-scale harbour porpoise movements in the North Sea. We used long-term movement data from 57 individuals tracked during 1999-2017 in a state-space model to estimate the underlying behavioural states, i.e. whether animals used area-restricted or directed movements. Subsequently, we assessed whether the probability of using area-restricted movements was related to environmental conditions using a generalized linear mixed model. Harbour porpoises were more likely to use area-restricted movements in areas with low salinity levels, relatively high chlorophyll a concentrations and low current velocity, and in areas with steep bottom slopes, suggesting that such areas are important foraging grounds for porpoises. Our study identifies environmental parameters of relevance for predicting harbour porpoise foraging hot spots over space and time in a dynamic system. The study illustrates how movement patterns and data on environmental conditions can be combined, which is valuable to the conservation of marine mammals.

KEY WORDS: Switching state-space model · Harbour porpoise · Argos satellite tracking · Area-restricted search · Movement behaviour · Phocoena phocoena · Cetacean conservation · North Sea

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Cite this article as: Stalder D, van Beest FM, Sveegaard S, Dietz R, Teilmann J, Nabe-Nielsen J (2020) Influence of environmental variability on harbour porpoise movement. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 648:207-219.

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