Sympatric seals, satellite tracking and protected areas : habitat-based distribution estimates for conservation and management
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Marine predator populations are crucial to the structure and functioning of ecosystems. Like many predator taxa, pinnipeds face an increasingly complex array of natural and anthropogenic threats. Understanding the relationship between at-sea processes and trends in abundance at land-based monitoring sites requires robust estimates of at-sea distribution, often on multi-region scales. Such an understanding is critical for effective conservation management, but estimates are often limited in spatial extent by spatial coverage of animal-borne tracking data. Grey (Halichoerus grypus) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) are sympatric predators in North Atlantic shelf seas. The United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland represents an important population centre for both species, and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are designated for their monitoring and protection. Here we use an extensive high-resolution GPS tracking dataset, unprecedented in both size (114 grey and 239 harbour seals) and spatial coverage, to model habitat preference and generate at-sea distribution estimates for the entire UK and Ireland populations of both species. We found regional differences in environmental drivers of distribution for both species which likely relate to regional variation in diet and population trends. Moreover, we provide SAC-specific estimates of at-sea distribution for use in marine spatial planning, demonstrating that hotspots of at-sea density in UK and Ireland-wide maps cannot always be apportioned to the nearest SAC. We show that for grey seals, colonial capital breeders, there is a mismatch between SACs (where impacts are likely to be detected) and areas where impacts are most likely to occur (at sea). We highlight an urgent need for further research to elucidate the links between at-sea distribution during the foraging season and population trends observed in SACs. More generally, we highlight that the potential for such a disconnect needs to be considered when designating and managing protected sites, particularly for species that aggregate to breed and exhibit partial migration (e.g. grey seals), or spatial variation in migration strategies. We demonstrate the use of strategic tracking efforts to predict distribution across multiple regions, but caution that such efforts should be mindful of the potential for differences in species-environment relationships despite similar accessible habitats.
Carter , M I D , Boehme , L , Cronin , M A , Duck , C D , Grecian , W J , Hastie , G D , Jessopp , M , Matthiopoulos , J , McConnell , B J , Miller , D L , Morris , C D , Moss , S E W , Thompson , D , Thompson , P M & Russell , D J F 2022 , ' Sympatric seals, satellite tracking and protected areas : habitat-based distribution estimates for conservation and management ' , Frontiers in Marine Science , vol. 9 , 875869 . https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2022.875869
Frontiers in Marine Science
Copyright © 2022 Carter, Boehme, Cronin, Duck, Grecian, Hastie, Jessopp, Matthiopoulos, McConnell, Miller, Morris, Moss, Thompson, Thompson and Russell. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
DescriptionAnalysis was funded by the UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS; OESEA-16-76/OESEA-17-78) with support from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC; INSITE Phase II NE/T010614/1 EcoSTAR), EU INTERREG (MarPAMM), and the Scottish Government (MMSS/002/15). DJFR’s contribution was funded by NERC National Capability Funding (NE/R015007/1). WJG was supported by INSITE Phase I (MAPS). Telemetry tags and their deployment were funded in the UK by BEIS (and previous incarnations), NERC, Marine Scotland, Scottish Government, NatureScot, SMRU, SMRU Instrumentation Group, Marine Current Turbines, Ørsted, the Met Office, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Crown Estate, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Moray Firth Renewables Limited (MORL), Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited (BOWL), SITA Trust, BBC Wildlife Fund and the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. Tags and their deployment in Ireland were funded by Inland Fisheries Ireland, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Higher Education Authority of Ireland, the National Geographic Society, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. UK aerial surveys conducted by SMRU were funded by NERC (NE/R015007/1), NatureScot, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Northern Ireland), Marine Current Turbines, Marine Scotland, Natural England, and Scottish Power. Aerial surveys in Ireland were funded by the Department for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
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