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Population dynamics of Hawaiian seabird colonies vulnerable to sea-level rise

August 1, 2012

Globally, seabirds are vulnerable to anthropogenic threats both at sea and on land. Seabirds typically nest colonially and show strong fidelity to natal colonies, and such colonies on low-lying islands may be threatened by sea-level rise. We used French Frigate Shoals, the largest atoll in the Hawaiian Archipelago, as a case study to explore the population dynamics of seabird colonies and the potential effects sea-level rise may have on these rookeries. We compiled historic observations, a 30-year time series of seabird population abundance, lidar-derived elevations, and aerial imagery of all the islands of French Frigate Shoals. To estimate the population dynamics of 8 species of breeding seabirds on Tern Island from 1980 to 2009, we used a Gompertz model with a Bayesian approach to infer population growth rates, density dependence, process variation, and observation error. All species increased in abundance, in a pattern that provided evidence of density dependence. Great Frigatebirds (Fregata minor), Masked Boobies (Sula dactylatra), Red-tailed Tropicbirds (Phaethon rubricauda), Spectacled Terns (Onychoprion lunatus), and White Terns (Gygis alba) are likely at carrying capacity. Density dependence may exacerbate the effects of sea-level rise on seabirds because populations near carrying capacity on an island will be more negatively affected than populations with room for growth. We projected 12% of French Frigate Shoals will be inundated if sea level rises 1 m and 28% if sea level rises 2 m. Spectacled Terns and shrub-nesting species are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise, but seawalls and habitat restoration may mitigate the effects of sea-level rise. Losses of seabird nesting habitat may be substantial in the Hawaiian Islands by 2100 if sea levels rise 2 m. Restoration of higher-elevation seabird colonies represent a more enduring conservation solution for Pacific seabirds.

Publication Year 2012
Title Population dynamics of Hawaiian seabird colonies vulnerable to sea-level rise
DOI 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01853.x
Authors Jeff S. Hatfield, Michelle H. Reynolds, Nathaniel E. Seavy, Crystal M. Krause
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Conservation Biology
Index ID 70039314
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center