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An investigation of the effects of GPS tagging on the behaviour of black-legged kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla

The deployment of animal-borne tracking devices has revolutionised the study of animal behaviour, providing the opportunity to understand aspects of animal movement, physiology and ecology that were previously difficult to study. Such advances have been particularly important in the study of seabirds where the introduction of GPS tagging has allowed researchers to track the movement and behaviour of individuals while they are at sea. However, it is widely recognized that the negative effects associated with tag instrumentation on animal behaviour cannot be completely avoided and needed to be considered when using tracking data. For example, tagging an individual may lead to changes in its behaviour causing it to act atypically, which casts doubt upon any biological interpretation that arises from such data. In order to design studies in which the effect of tagging on behaviour is minimized researchers have typically sought to use the lightest tags available. Researchers have often used one of two commonly encountered rules-of-thumb that 1) a tag should not exceed 5% of the body mass of the tagged animal; or 2) a tag should not exceed 3% of the body mass of the tagged animal. However, there is little evidence supporting these general rules and it has been recommended that tagging studies provide some empirical examination of the potential effects of tagging when possible.

Here, we investigate the effect of GPS-tagging on the behaviour of black-legged kittiwakes, Rissa tridactyla, that were tagged during the breeding season across multiple UK colonies in the North Sea as part of the RSPB FAME / STAR tracking project.

Date
12 October 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Aly McCluskie, Dr Ellie Owen, Saskia Wischnewski, Dr Linda Wilson, Dr Lucy Wright, Dr Mark Bolton
Published in
RSPB Technical Report
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The impacts of non-native gamebird release in the UK: an updated evidence review

Recreational shooting of non-native gamebirds (pheasants and red-legged partridges) in the UK is
underpinned by a suite of management practices. A major aspect is the annual large-scale release
of birds to be shot, which is steadily increasing with an estimated 57 million birds released in 2016;
this scale of non-native gamebird release exceeds any similar activity in Europe or North America.

Approximately one third of released birds are shot, while the majority of the remaining birds die
from other causes during the year of release or survive in very low numbers to join the population
of pheasants and partridges now residing in the wild in the UK.

The number of gamebirds released has increased since the 1990s, while the number shot has
remained relatively stable, and this reduction in releasing-efficiency is potentially driven by a
reduction in gamebird survival and an increase in late winter shooting, meaning that more birds
must be released during autumn to ensure enough survive to be shot in January.
There is concern that this large and increasing release of gamebirds and associated shooting practices may be having negative impacts on the UK’s native wildlife. However, there may also be positive ecological, economic and social impacts of gamebird release activities.

Date
12 October 2020
RSPB Authors
Lucy Mason, Dr Jen Smart, Dr Will Peach
Authors
Lucy R. Mason, Jake E. Bicknell, Jennifer Smart, Will J. Peach
Published in
RSPB Research Report No. 66
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Global conservation of species’ niches

Environmental change is rapidly accelerating, and many species will need to adapt to survive¹. Ensuring that protected areas cover populations across a broad range of environmental conditions could safeguard the processes that lead to such adaptations1,2,3. However, international conservation policies have largely neglected these considerations when setting targets for the expansion of protected areas⁴. Here we show that—of 19,937 vertebrate species globally5,6,7,8—the representation of environmental conditions across their habitats in protected areas (hereafter, niche representation) is inadequate for 4,836 (93.1%) amphibian, 8,653 (89.5%) bird and 4,608 (90.9%) terrestrial mammal species. Expanding existing protected areas to cover these gaps would encompass 33.8% of the total land surface—exceeding the current target of 17% that has been adopted by governments. Priority locations for expanding the system of protected areas to improve niche representation occur in global biodiversity hotspots⁹, including Colombia, Papua New Guinea, South Africa and southwest China, as well as across most of the major land masses of the Earth. Conversely, we also show that planning for the expansion of protected areas without explicitly considering environmental conditions would marginally reduce the land area required to 30.7%, but that this would lead to inadequate niche representation for 7,798 (39.1%) species. As the governments of the world prepare to renegotiate global conservation targets, policymakers have the opportunity to help to maintain the adaptive potential of species by considering niche representation within protected areas1,2.

Date
25 March 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Graeme Buchanan
Authors
Hanson, Jeffrey O. Rhodes, Jonathan R. Butchart, Stuart H. M. Buchanan, Graeme M. Rondinini, Carlo Ficetola, Gentile F. Fuller, Richard A.
Published in
Nature
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A framework for mapping the distribution of seabirds by integrating tracking, demography and phenology

1. The identification of geographic areas where the densities of animals are highest across their annual cycles is a crucial step in conservation planning. In marine
environments, however, it can be particularly difficult to map the distribution of
species, and the methods used are usually biased towards adults, neglecting the
distribution of other life-history stages even though they can represent a substantial proportion of the total population.
2. Here we develop a methodological framework for estimating populationlevel density distributions of seabirds, integrating tracking data across the mainlife-history stages (adult breeders and non-breeders, juveniles and immatures).
We incorporate demographic information (adult and juvenile/immature survival, breeding frequency and success, age at first breeding) and phenological
data (average timing of breeding and migration) to weight distribution maps
according to the proportion of the population represented by each life-history
stage.
3. We demonstrate the utility of this framework by applying it to 22 species of
albatrosses and petrels that are of conservation concern due to interactions with
fisheries. Because juveniles, immatures and non-breeding adults account for
47%–81% of all individuals of the populations analysed, ignoring the distributions
of birds in these stages leads to biased estimates of overlap with threats, and may
misdirect management and conservation efforts. Population-level distribution
maps using only adult distributions underestimated exposure to longline fishing
effort by 18%–42%, compared with overlap scores based on data from all lifehistory stages.
4. Synthesis and applications. Our framework synthesizes and improves on previous
approaches to estimate seabird densities at sea, is applicable for data-poor situations, and provides a standard and repeatable method that can be easily updated
as new tracking and demographic data become available. We provide scripts in
the R language and a Shiny app to facilitate future applications of our approach.
We recommend that where sufficient tracking data are available, this framework
be used to assess overlap of seabirds with at-sea threats such as overharvesting,
fisheries bycatch, shipping, offshore industry and pollutants. Based on such an
analysis, conservation interventions could be directed towards areas where they
have the greatest impact on populations.

Date
02 March 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Steffen Oppel
Authors
Carneiro, Ana PB Pearmain, Elizabeth J Oppel, Steffen Clay, Thomas A Phillips, Richard A Bonnet‐Lebrun, Anne‐Sophie Wanless, Ross M Abraham, Edward Richard, Yvan Rice, Joel
Published in
Journal of Applied Ecology
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The UK Beached Bird Survey 2019

2019 survey finds the second lowest density of beached seabirds since 1991. Oiling rate was the second lowest recorded in 29 years

Date
01 February 2020
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A successful Pacific rat Rattus exulans eradication on tropical Reiono Island (Tetiaroa Atoll, French Polynesia) despite low baiting rates

We successfully eradicated rats from Reiono Island despite reducing the interval between bait applications from the recommended 10-21 days to 7 days, and reducing bait availability from the recommended >4 nights, to 2 nights. We focused on meeting the eradication principle of exposing all rats to poison bait by ensuring complete bait coverage across the island. Relative to current practice our approach saved 3,032 kg of bait and 168 persondays of labour on a 22-ha island, or US$42,626 in bait and accommodation costs. In line with other recent cases,
the Reiono eradication suggests that using moderate baiting rates and short baiting intervals can lead to
significant financial and logistical savings. Yet, baiting strategies should be tailored to the risk environment of
each project.

Date
06 January 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Steffen Oppel
Authors
Samaniego, Araceli Griffiths, Richard Gronwald, Markus Murphy, Frank Le Rohellec, Moana Oppel, Steffen Meyer, Jean-Yves Russell, James C
Published in
Conservation Evidence
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Conservation management for lowland breeding waders in the UK

Biodiversity loss is occurring globally at an alarming rate through the impacts of an unsustainably expanding human population, with changes in land-use practices, pollution, exploitation of natural resources and climate threatening species and ecological communities worldwide...

Date
03 December 2019
RSPB Authors
Lucy Mason
Authors
Lucy Mason (2019)
Published in
PhD, University of East Anglia
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Foraging ecology of tropicbirds breeding in two contrasting marine environments in the tropical Atlantic

Studying the feeding ecology of seabirds is important not only to understand basic aspects of their ecology and threats but also for the conservation of marine ecosystems. In this regard, tropical seabirds have been relatively neglected, and in particular the trophic ecology of tropicbirds is scarcely known. We combined GPS tracking, environmental variables...

Date
02 December 2019
RSPB Authors
Dr Steffen Oppel
Authors
Diop, N., Zango, L., Beard, A., Ba, C.T., Ndiaye, P.I., Henry, L., Clingham, E., Oppel, S. & Gonzalez-Solis, J.
Published in
Marine Ecology Progress Series 607: 221-236
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Density of three skink species on a sub-tropical Pacific Island estimated with hierarchical distance sampling

 

Henderson Island, an island in the United Kingdom Overseas Territory of the Pitcairn Islands, is an uninhabited oceanic raised coral atoll with four endemic land birds, nine endemic flowering plants, and at least 18 endemic invertebrate species (Graves 1992; Benton 1995; Benton and Lehtinen 1995; Florence et al. 1995). Despite a wealth of knowledge about most native biodiversity, very little is known about the reptile species that are present on the island. Because previous reptile surveys on Henderson Island...

Date
02 December 2019
RSPB Authors
Dr Steffen Oppel
Authors
Havery, S., Oppel, S., Cole, N. & Duffield, N.
Published in
Herpetological Conservation and Biology 13 (3): 507-516
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What can seabirds tell us about the tide?

Small global positioning system (GPS) trackers are now routinely used to study the movement and behaviour of birds at sea. If the birds rest on the water they become "drifters of opportunity" and can be used to give information about surface currents. In this paper, we use a small data set from satellite-tracked razorbills...

Date
01 November 2019
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Bolton, Dr Ellie Owen, Stephen Dodd
Authors
Cooper, M., Bishop, C., Lewis, M., Bowers, D., Bolton, M., Owen, E. & Dodd, S.
Published in
Ocean Science 14 (6): 1483-1490
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