SEABIRD DISTRIBUTION IS BETTER PREDICTED BY ABUNDANCE OF PREY THAN OCEANOGRAPHY. A CASE STUDY IN THE GULF OF CADIZ (SW, IBERIAN PENINSULA)
Quantifying factors that influence marine predator distributions is essential to understanding the current and future change in marine biodiversity. Here, we test whether marine predator distribution relates to prey, or is better predicted by other specific habitat features. We examine the correlation between spatial distribution of three seabird species and their prey, as well as environmental proxies (oceanographic characteristics) in the Gulf of Cadiz, NE Atlantic. We modeled the at-sea distribution of Cory’s shearwater, Balearic shearwater and Northern gannet, based on:
(i) Pelagic fish abundance according to acoustic surveys.
(ii) A forecast-model of remotely sensed environmental variables (productivity, sea surface temperature, and salinity).
In general, seabird distributions were better predicted by abundance of fish than by environmental variables at the habitat scale. We obtained consistent correlations between seabird presence and the abundance of medium-sized sardines, anchovies and Mediterranean horse mackerel, providing information on their preferred prey. Additionally, oceanographic productivity variables moderately contributed to seabird distribution models, with better predictive value for the critically endangered Balearic shearwater and Northern gannet in the summer, whilst the model for Cory’s shearwater’s produced poorer predictions. Predator–prey combined studies may represent essential tools for an efficient ecosystem-based management of marine environments.