Multiple-colony winter habitat use by murres Uria spp. in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean: implications for marine risk assessment

Limited knowledge of year-round seabird distributions hinders efforts to assess consequences of anthropogenic threats and climate-induced changes in the marine environment. In particular, there is urgent need to understand how populations from different breeding colonies share and partition ocean habitat. Using geolocators, we identified winter habitat use patterns of 115 adult murres Uria spp. from 7 colonies, spanning the eastern Canadian coast from the high Arctic to Newfoundland, during 2007 to 2010. Thick-billed murres U. lomvia dispersed throughout the region (Davis Strait, Labrador Sea, Orphan Basin, Grand Bank) with 0 to 45% overlap of core wintering areas (50% kernel home range) among breeding populations. Common murres U. aalge concentrated on the Grand Bank and Orphan Basin, with 50 to 67% overlap among breeding populations. For both species, most individuals (up to 70%) wintered offshore, in shelf (≤500 m deep) and oceanic zones (>500 m); fewer than one-third (30%) of individuals used nearshore zones (≤50 km to shore). Tracked common murres representing >80% of the eastern Canadian breeding population converged in winter in areas of high risk from hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activity. In contrast, tracked thick-billed murres, representing ~34% of the eastern Canadian population, dispersed over a larger area and displayed more variable wintering strategies. Thus population vulnerability to spatially constrained risks may be greater for common than thick-billed murres. Populations from several colonies of both species converged on the Grand Bank and Orphan Basin, with the implications for each breeding population depending on its particular dispersal pattern. We demonstrate the utility of tracking data for highlighting areas of risk, and improving the targeting of broad-scale marine conservation efforts.


Publication status:
Authors: McFarlane Tranquilla, Laura A., Montevecchi, William A., Hedd, April, Fifield, David A., Burke, Chantelle M., Smith, Paul A., Regular, Paul M., Robertson, Gregory J., Gaston, Anthony J., Phillips, Richard A.

On this site: Richard Phillips
9 January, 2013
Marine Ecology Progress Series / 472
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