Using ecological traits to quantify seabird bycatch vulnerability and predict conservation gains

Master's research, supervised by Dr Amanda Bates, Dave Fifield and Dr Shawn Leroux

Collaborators: Robert S. C. Cooke, Diana Bowler and Kristina Boerder

Fisheries bycatch, the incidental mortality of non-target species, is a profound threat to seabirds worldwide. Reducing bycatch is critical to prevent direct declines of species’ populations and indirect changes in ocean trophic dynamics and ecosystem functioning. Therefore, key fisheries management and conservation goals are to identify the most vulnerable species and to quantify the success of mitigation strategies. Here we combine species traits, seabird distribution ranges and a spatially resolved gear-specific fishing dataset to (1) map the spatial variation in seabird community traits; (2) predict whether mitigating bycatch will conserve community traits; and (3) quantify species vulnerability based on their exposure, sensitivity and capacity to adapt to longline, trawler and purse seine bycatch. We find distinct spatial variation in the community weighted mean of four seabird traits. Furthermore, successful bycatch mitigation could prevent significant shifts in the traits of seabird communities across the globe. Finally, we identify the world’s most vulnerable species to gear-specific bycatch and classify all 341 seabirds into five vulnerability classes. Our findings offer valuable insights into oceanic regions that may experience the greatest ecosystem functioning protection from bycatch mitigation and opportunities for targeted conservation strategies.

Biological traits and anthropogenic threats drive the vulnerability of the World’s seabirds

Master's research, supervised by Dr Amanda Bates, Dave Fifield and Dr Shawn Leroux

Collaborator: Robert S. C. Cooke

In Review at Global Ecology and Biogeography

Seabirds are heavily threatened by anthropogenic activities and their status is deteriorating rapidly. Yet, these pressures are unlikely to uniformly impact all species. It remains an open question if seabird species with similar ecological roles are responding in synchrony to human pressures. Here we compile and impute eight traits across all 341 species of seabird. We test whether globally and non-threatened seabirds differ in trait space and identify traits that render species vulnerable to anthropogenic threats. Seabirds segregate in trait space based on threat status where anthropogenic impacts are selectively removing large, long-lived, pelagic surface feeders with small habitat breadths. We further find that species with small habitat breadths and fast reproductive speeds are more likely to be threatened by habitat-modifying processes; whereas pelagic specialists with slow reproductive speeds are vulnerable to threats that directly impact survival and fecundity. Our results suggest targeted conservation strategies must be implemented to ensure a functionally similar suite of seabirds will not be lost in the near future, and supports that targeted conservation measures will have positives impacts for many species.

All content © Cerren Richards 2020

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