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GPS tracking reveals highly consistent use of restricted foraging areas by European Storm-petrels Hydrobates pelagicus breeding at the largest UK colony: implications for conservation management

Seabirds face a diverse array of threats and are considered to comprise one of the most threatened avian groups globally. Development of appropriate conservation action requires a knowledge of the marine distribution of seabirds, furnished either by tracking the movements of individuals, or from at-sea surveys. Obtaining information on the distribution of the smallest seabird species, the storm-petrels Hydrobatidae, is challenging, but the recent development of <1 g GPS tracking tags now enables high-precision tracking and this study reports the first multi-year high-precision tracking of European Storm-petrels Hydrobates pelagicus from their largest UK breeding colony. A total of 42 successful tag deployments were made over four breeding seasons during incubation, brooding and post-brood phases, and there was no evidence of adverse impacts on adult body mass or nest survival rates. Foraging trips lasted between one and three days and ranged up to 397 km from the colony (median = 159 km). Foraging range and total distance covered were positively correlated with trip duration but did not differ across breeding stages. Storm-petrels did not feed to the west of the colony at the edge of the continental shelf where high concentrations have been reported in previous decades from boat surveys, but rather, foraging was restricted to shallow waters south of the colony, consistent across individuals, breeding stages and years. Two areas were identified that exceed the threshold criteria for marine Important Bird Area status and should be considered for statutory protection. The home range estimated across all three breeding stages overlapped with 206 active hydrocarbon wells and 14 operating platforms which represent potential threats as sources of surface pollution or through attraction of birds to gas flares. Improved understanding of the foraging distribution of storm-petrels from this protected colony greatly assists the identification of potential threats and informs appropriate marine spatial planning.

Date
02 September 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Bolton
Published in
Bird Conservation International 31 (1) : 35-52
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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 580 (7802) 232-234
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Guild-level responses by mammalian predators to afforestation and subsequent restoration in a formerly treeless peatland landscape

Afforestation of formerly open landscapes can transform mammalian predator communities, potentially impacting prey species like ground-nesting birds. In Scotland's Flow Country, a globally important peatland containing many forestry plantations, earlier studies found reduced densities of breeding waders on open bogs, when forestry plantations were present within 700 m. One plausible explanation for this pattern is mammalian predation. We tested whether mammalian predator indices, based on scats (feces), differed between (1) open bog, forestry plantations, and former plantations being restored as bog (“restoration” habitats); (2) restoration habitats of different ages; and (3) open bogs with differing amounts of nearby forestry. We measured summer scat density and size over 14 years in 26 transects 0.6–4.5 km in length, collecting data during 93, 96, and 79 transect-years in bog, forestry, and restoration habitats respectively. In forestry, scat density increased eightfold, reaching values ~6 times higher than those of bogs. On open bogs with over 10% forestry within 700 m, scat densities were 2.9 times higher than on open bogs with less forestry nearby. Results support the hypothesis that mammalian predators might be responsible for the low densities of breeding waders close to forests, on adjacent open bogs. In restoration habitats, scat densities rose 6–10 years after felling but fell to levels similar to open bogs in older restoration habitats, supporting restoration management as a means of reducing mammalian predator activity/abundance. We urge caution around decisions to establish forestry plantations in open landscapes of high biodiversity importance.

Date
20 March 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Klein, Daniela; Cowie, Neil R
Published in
Restoration Ecology 28 (5) 1113-1123
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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  population level 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 57 (3) 514-525
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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 17: 12-14
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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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