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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 679:181-194 (2021)  -  DOI:

Foraging distribution of breeding northern fulmars is predicted by commercial fisheries

J. H. Darby1,2,*, S. de Grissac3, G. E. Arneill1,2,4, E. Pirotta1,5, J. J. Waggitt6, L. Börger3, E. Shepard3, D. Cabot1, E. Owen7, M. Bolton8, E. W. J. Edwards9,10, P. M. Thompson9, J. L. Quinn1,#, M. Jessopp1,2,#

1School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences, University College Cork, Cork T23 N73K, Ireland
2MaREI Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine, Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork, Cork P43 C573, Ireland
3Biosciences Department, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK
4Green Rebel Group, Crosshaven Boatyard, Crosshaven P43 EV21, Ireland
5Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA 98686, USA
6School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, Isle of Anglesey LL59 5AB, UK
7RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, Etive House, Inverness IV2 3BW, UK
8RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, The Lodge, Sandy SG19 2DL, UK
9Lighthouse Field Station, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Cromarty IV11 8YL, UK
10Marine Scotland Science, 375 Victoria Rd, Aberdeen AB11 9DB, UK
*Corresponding author:
#These authors contributed equally to this work

ABSTRACT: Habitat-use and distribution models are essential tools of conservation biology. For wide-ranging species, such models may be challenged by the expanse, remoteness and variability of their habitat, these challenges often being compounded by the species’ mobility. In marine environments, direct observations and sampling are usually impractical over broad regions, and instead remotely sensed proxies of prey availability are often used to link species abundance or foraging behaviour to areas that are expected to provide food consistently. One source of food consumed by many marine top predators is fisheries waste, but habitat-use models rarely account for this interaction. We assessed the utility of commercial fishing effort as a covariate in foraging habitat models for northern fulmars Fulmarus glacialis, a species known to exploit fisheries waste, during their summer breeding season. First, we investigated the prevalence of fulmar-vessel interactions using concurrently tracked fulmars and fishing vessels. We infer that over half of our study individuals associate with fishing vessels while foraging, mostly with trawl-type vessels. We then used hidden Markov models to explain the spatio-temporal distribution of putative foraging behaviour as a function of a range of covariates. Persistent commercial fishing effort was a significant predictor of foraging behaviour, and was more important than commonly used environmental covariates retained in the model. This study demonstrates the effect of commercial fisheries on the foraging distribution and behaviour of a marine top predator, and supports the idea that, in some systems, incorporating human activities into distribution studies can improve model fit substantially.

KEY WORDS: Fisheries · Discards · Marine conservation · Foraging behaviour · Habitat use · Anthropogenic food source

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Cite this article as: Darby JH, Dde Grissac S, Arneill GE, Pirotta E and others (2021) Foraging distribution of breeding northern fulmars is predicted by commercial fisheries. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 679:181-194.

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