Predicting the distribution of a threatened albatross: The importance of competition, fisheries and annual variability
The ability to predict the distribution of threatened marine predators is essential to inform spatially explicit seascape management. We tracked 99 individual black-browed albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris from two Falkland Islands’ colonies in 2 years. We modeled the observed distribution of foraging activity taking environmental variables, fisheries activity (derived from vessel monitoring system data), accessibility to feeding grounds and intra-specific competition into account. The resulting models had sufficient generality to make reasonable predictions for different years and colonies, which allows temporal and spatial variation to be incorporated into the decision making process by managers for regions and seasons where available information is incomplete. We also illustrated that long-ranging birds from colonies separated by as little as 75 km can show important spatial segregation at sea, invalidating direct or uncorrected extrapolation from one colony to neighboring ones. Fisheries had limited influence on albatross distribution, despite the well known scavenging behavior of these birds. The models developed here have potentially wide application to the identification of sensitive geographical areas where special management practices (such as fisheries closures) could be implemented, and would predict how these areas are likely to move with annual and seasonal changes in environmental conditions.