Factors influencing the marine spatial ecology of seabirds: Implications for theory, conservation and management
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Seabirds are wide-ranging apex-predators and useful bio-indicators of marine systems. Nevertheless, changes are occurring in the marine environment, and seabirds require protection from the deleterious effects of climate change, fisheries, pollution, offshore development, introduced predators and invasive species. The UK supports internationally important populations of seabirds but also has vast wind and wave resources, therefore understanding how seabirds use the marine environment is vital in order to quantify the potential consequences of further exploiting these resources. In this thesis I first describe the range of wave energy converting devices operational or in development in the UK, and review the potential threats and benefits these developments may have for marine birds. I then synthesise data from colony-based surveys with detailed information on population dynamics, foraging ecology and near-colony behaviour, to develop a projection model that identifies important at-sea areas for breeding seabirds. These models show a positive spatial correlation with one of the most intensive at-sea seabird survey datasets, and provide qualitatively similar findings to existing tracking data. This approach has the potential to identify overlap with offshore energy developments, and could be developed to suit a range of species or whole communities and provide a theoretical framework for the study of factors such as colony size regulation. The non-breeding period is a key element of the annual cycle of seabirds and conditions experienced during one season may carry-over to influence the next. Understanding behaviour throughout the annual cycle has implications for both ecological theory and conservation. Bio-logging can provide detailed information on movements away from breeding colonies, and the analysis of stable isotope ratios in body tissues can provide information on foraging during the non-breeding period. I combine these two approaches to describe the migration strategies of northern gannets Morus bassanus breeding at two colonies in the north-west Atlantic, revealing a high degree of both winter site fidelity and dietary consistency between years. These migratory strategies also have carry-over effects with consequences for both body condition and timing of arrival on the breeding grounds. Finally, I investigate the threats posed to seabirds and other marine predators during the non-breeding period by collating information on the distributions of five different species of apex predator wintering in the Northwest African upwelling region. I describe the threat of over-fishing and fisheries bycatch to marine vertebrates in this region, and highlight the need for pelagic marine protected areas to adequately protect migratory animals throughout the annual cycle. In summary, the combination of colony-based studies, bio-logging, stable isotope analysis and modelling techniques can provide a comprehensive understanding of the interactions between individuals and the marine environment over multiple spatial and temporal scales.
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