Can we define marine habitat use by seabirds without costly at-sea observational data? (innovation fund)
Our waters support the greatest diversity of seabirds on Earth, but defining where birds are and in what numbers can be extremely expensive. We are investigating whether relative environmental suitability (RES) models could produce sufficiently accurate estimates of seasonal seabird distributions, at a much lower cost than boat-based observations.
Project leader: David Thompson, NIWA
Can we predict which seabirds are where?
New Zealand waters support the greatest diversity of seabirds on Earth. However, there is little information available about where seabirds are found within New Zealand’s EEZ, and how their distributions (numbers) vary with time. This lack of data often means that managers, decision-makers, Māori, stakeholders and the public do not have the detailed and robust information needed to gauge how particular threats in the marine environment could affect these high-profile, protected species.
Unfortunately, getting detailed and systematic at-sea data about where sea birds are and in what numbers through conventional boatbased field work is extremely expensive. Relative environmental suitability (RES) models are cheaper because they do not incorporate location data, they rely upon knowledge of the environmental characteristics that particular seabird species prefer.
We are investigating whether RES models are sufficient to produce accurate estimates of seasonal seabird distributions – or if seabird location data from sightings and electronic tracking devices are more accurate. To do this we are comparing species-specific RES models to habitat suitability models that are produced from either observational data or location data from electronic tags.
This tiered novel approach has the potential to produce new information about how seabirds use the marine environment whilst making huge resource savings.
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