Combining survey and remotely sensed environmental data to estimate the habitat associations, abundance and distribution of breeding thin-billed prions Pachyptila belcheri and Wilson’s storm-petrels Oceanites oceanicus on a South Atlantic tussac island

Stokes, A. W., Catry, P., Matthiopoulos, J. , Boldenow, M., Clark, T.J., Guest, A., Marengo, I. and Wakefield, E. D. (2021) Combining survey and remotely sensed environmental data to estimate the habitat associations, abundance and distribution of breeding thin-billed prions Pachyptila belcheri and Wilson’s storm-petrels Oceanites oceanicus on a South Atlantic tussac island. Polar Biology, 44(4), pp. 809-821. (doi: 10.1007/s00300-021-02842-3)

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Abstract

Small petrels are the most abundant seabirds in the Southern Ocean. However, because they breed in burrows on remote and often densely vegetated islands, their colony sizes and conservation status remain poorly known. To estimate the abundance of these species on Bird Island in the Falkland archipelago, we systematically surveyed their breeding burrow density and occupancy across this near-pristine tussac (Poa flabellata)-covered island. By modelling burrow density as functions of topography and Sentinel 2 satellite-derived Normalised Difference Vegetation Index data, we inferred habitat associations and predicted burrow abundance of the commonest species—Thin-billed Prions (Pachyptila belcheri) and Wilson’s Storm-petrels (Oceanites oceanicus). We estimate that there are 631,000 Thin-billed Prion burrows on the island (95% CI 496,000–904,000 burrows). Assuming that burrow occupancy lies between 12 and 97%, this equates to around 76,000–612,000 breeding pairs, making Bird Island the second or third largest P. belcheri colony in the world, holding approximately 3–27% of the species’ breeding population. We estimate that 8200–9800 (95% CI 5,200–18,300 pairs) pairs of Wilson’s Storm-petrels also breed on the island. Notably, the latter burrowed predominantly under and within tussac pedestals, whereas they are usually assumed to breed in rock cavities. Thin-billed Prions are declining in the Kerguelen archipelago, but their population trends in the Falklands are unknown. Given the wide confidence intervals around our own and other population estimates for these cryptic species, we recommend that their populations should be monitored regularly, at multiple sites.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Wakefield, Dr Ewan and Matthiopoulos, Professor Jason
Authors: Stokes, A. W., Catry, P., Matthiopoulos, J., Boldenow, M., Clark, T.J., Guest, A., Marengo, I., and Wakefield, E. D.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Journal Name:Polar Biology
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:0722-4060
ISSN (Online):1432-2056
Published Online:18 March 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 The Authors
First Published:First published in Polar Biology 44(4): 809-821
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
171561Seabirds and wind - the consequences of extreme prey taxis in a changing climateEwan WakefieldNatural Environment Research Council (NERC)NE/M017990/1Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine