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Identifying marine Important Bird Areas using at-sea survey data

April 4, 2014

Effective marine bird conservation requires identification of at-sea locations used by populations for foraging, staging, and migration. Using an extensive database of at-sea survey data spanning over 30 years, we developed a standardized and data-driven spatial method for identifying globally significant marine Important Bird Areas in Alaska. To delineate these areas we developed a six-step process: binning data and accounting for unequal survey effort, filtering input data for persistence of species use, using a moving window analysis to produce maps representing a gradient from low to high abundance, drawing core area boundaries around major concentrations based on abundance thresholds, validating the results, and combining overlapping boundaries into important areas for multiple species. We identified 126 bird core areas which were merged into 59 pelagic sites important to 45 out of 57 species assessed. The final areas included approximately 34–38% of all marine birds in Alaska waters, within just 6% of the total area. We identified globally significant Important Bird Areas spanning 20 degrees of latitude and 56 degrees of longitude, in two different oceans, with climates ranging from temperate to polar. Although our maps did suffer from some data gaps, these gaps did not preclude us from identifying sites that incorporated 13% of the assessed continental waterbird population and 9% of the assessed global seabird population. The application of this technique over a large and productive region worked well for a wide range of birds, exhibiting a variety of foraging strategies and occupying a variety of ecosystem types.

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