By Asta Mail,
Marine conservation student
Imagine that you are entrusted with the duty of conserving a colony of beautiful seabirds. Your objective is to create Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) that shelter birds from disturbances, so that they can do what they do best: eat, sleep, fly and reproduce! How then do you decide which marine areas are the most important to protect?
According to a recent paper by Caphuysen et al. (2012), MPAs are the most effective if they are “guided by at least some understanding of the natural history and habitat requirements of seabirds.” Traditionally, bird population dynamics have been studied using boat-based observational data collection. Surveys look for the presence or absence of birds within particular areas, and the number of birds seen in certain locations over time. “Large amounts of data have been collected to assess distribution patterns of seabirds around the world” (Caphuysen et al. 2012), and areas of high bird abundance have been noted in distribution maps. However, there has been an absence of behavioral information related to bird distribution, and the ecological significance of areas where birds congregate is not well understood.
Camphuysen et al. (2012) sought to collect information on the behaviors of birds at sea, so that they could understand why birds congregate in some areas and not in others. Having an idea of what birds are doing in particular areas is “crucially important” in selection of areas for protection, and “could lead to more precise delineations of areas of ecological importance” (Camphuysen et al. 2012).
This research is focused on two important European sea bird species, the Northern Gannet (Morus Bassanus) and the Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus Fuscus). The authors compiled 20+ years worth of observational data to create distribution patterns around the roosting areas of distinct populations of each species.
Campuhysen K, Sharmoun-Baranes J., Bouten W. and Garthe S.Identifying Ecologically Important Marine Areas for Seabirds Using Behavioral Information in Combination with Distribution Patterns. Biol.Conserv. (2012).
Patterson T, Thomas L,Wilcox C, Ovaskainen O, and Matthiopoulos J.State–space models of individual animal movement. Trends in Ecology & Evolution (2008),Vol 23: pp 87–94
Nils Holgerson Cruising on the Back of a Northern Gannet. Youtube video uploaded by user speafame. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ix24ppTHMGE