University of Tasmania

File(s) under permanent embargo

Predicting the distribution of foraging seabirds during a period of heightened environmental variability

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 22:50 authored by Evans, R, Mary-Anne LeaMary-Anne Lea, Mark HindellMark Hindell
Quantifying the links between the marine environment, prey-occurrence, and predator distribution is the first step towards identifying areas of biological importance for marine spatial planning. Events such as marine heatwaves result in an anomalous change in the physical environment, which can lead to shifts in the structure, biomass and distribution of lower trophic levels. As central-place foragers, seabirds are vulnerable to changes in their foraging grounds during the breeding season. We first quantified spatio-temporal variability in the occurrence and biomass of prey in response to an abrupt change in oceanography as a result of a marine heatwave event. Secondly, using multivariate techniques and machine learning, we investigated if differences in the foraging technique and prey of seabirds resulted in varying responses to changes in prey occurrence and the environment over a 2.5 year period. We found that the main variables correlated with seabird distribution were also important in structuring the occurrence and biomass of prey; SST, current speed, mixed-layer depth and bathymetry. Both zooplankton biomass and the occurrence of fish schools exhibited negative relationships with temperature, and temperature was subsequently an important variable in determining seabird distribution. We were able to establish correlations between the distribution of prey and the spatio-temporal distribution of albatross, little penguins and common-diving petrels. We were unable to find a correlation between the distribution of prey and that of short-tailed shearwaters and fairy prions. For high-use coastal areas, the delineation of important foraging regions is essential to balance human use of an area with the needs of marine predators; particularly seabirds.


Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment


Publication title

Ecological Applications





Article number









Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Ecological Soc Amer

Place of publication

1707 H St Nw, Ste 400, Washington, USA, Dc, 20006-3915

Rights statement

© 2021 by the Ecological Society of America

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of pelagic marine ecosystems; Marine biodiversity