Behavioural analysis of marine predator movements in relation to heterogeneous environments
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An understanding of the spatio-temporal dynamics of marine predator populations is essential for the sustainable management of marine resources. Tagging studies are providing ever more information about the movements and migrations of marine predators and much has been learned about where these predators spend their time. However little is known about their underlying motivations, making it difficult to make predictions about how apex predators will respond to changing environments. While much progress has been made in behavioural ecology through the use of optimality models, in the marine environment the necessary costs and benefits are difficult to quantify making this approach less successful than with terrestrial studies. One aspect of foraging behaviour that has proved tractable however is the optimisation of random searches. Work by statistical physicists has shown that a specialised movement, known as Lévy flight, can optimise the rate of new prey patch encounters when new prey patches are beyond sensory range. The resulting Lévy flight foraging (LFF) hypothesis makes testable predictions about marine predator search behaviour that can be addressed with the theoretical and empirical studies that form the basis of this thesis. Results presented here resolve the controversy surrounding the hypothesis, demonstrating the optimality of Lévy searches under a broader set of conditions than previously considered, including whether observed Lévy patterns are innate or emergent. Empirical studies provide robust evidence for the prevalence of Lévy search patterns in the movements of diverse marine pelagic predators such as sharks, tunas and billfish as well as in the foraging patterns of albatrosses, overturning a previous study. Predictions from the LFF hypothesis concerning fast moving prey are confirmed leading to simulation studies of ambush predator’s activity patterns. Movement analysis is then applied to the assessment of by-catch mitigation efforts involving VMS data from long-liners and simulated sharks.
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