Modelling seabird diversity hotspots using foraging range and population sizes
Emma Critchley1, Saskia Wischnewski1, Mark Jessopp1, James Grecian2, Stephen Votier3, John Quinn1
1University College Cork 2University of Leeds 3University of Exeter
Seabird surveys at sea can be costly and intensive work. On the other hand, predictive distribution models have the potential to allow a quick assessment of distributions on a large scale, and can help identify biodiversity hotspots for further investigation. This information is vital for conservation efforts as it will allow for more rapid risk assessment and inform allocation of marine protected areas.
Here we report on a predictive distribution model that uses a foraging radius approach, taking into account colony location and size, as well as species foraging behaviour. We generate predictive at-sea abundance and distribution maps for all Irish seabirds at a 1km square resolution, for both individual species and feeding guilds. Predictions are validated with tracking data for some key species.
Results show how the importance of specific regions varies dramatically for different species and guilds. South west Ireland is highlighted as particularly important in terms of breeding seabird biodiversity, with abundances of up to 40 individuals/km2 offshore.
An open-access online GIS platform has been developed concurrently to enable stakeholders, including fossil fuel and renewable energy sectors, to identify, manage and mitigate potential at-risk hotspots where vulnerable species occur.