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Status, trend, and monitoring effectiveness of Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) at sea abundance and reproductive output off central California, 1999–2021

September 11, 2023

Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) have been listed as “endangered” by the State of California and “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1992 in California, Oregon, and Washington. Information regarding murrelet abundance, distribution, and habitat associations is critical for risk assessment, effective management, evaluation of conservation efficacy, and ultimately, the meeting of Federal- and State-mandated recovery efforts. From 1999 to present, line-transect surveys have been performed to estimate at-sea abundance and reproductive output of Marbled Murrelets in the marine environment in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Zone 6 (San Francisco Bay to Point Sur in central California). Using this long-term annual time series, we developed a new and comprehensive analytical framework to estimate annual murrelet abundance and trend at sea, evaluated the effectiveness of spatial and temporal components of the monitoring study design, assessed two measures of annual murrelet reproductive output, and developed new spatial models to map murrelet at-sea density and estimate model-based annual at-sea abundances. The long-term average, design-based after-hatch-year (AHY) abundance estimate for the study area was 376 murrelets (range: 163–586 annually), and we did not detect any significant trend during the 23 years of monitoring. Spatial-model-based AHY abundance estimates were similar to design-based estimates but with smaller estimated variance. The AHY murrelets were most abundant nearshore, with little annual variation; alongshore, distribution was more annually variable, and some long-term hotspots occurred, particularly around Point Año Nuevo. The AHY murrelet densities were greatest in July and least in June and August. The long-term average hatch-year (HY) abundance estimate was 13 murrelets (range: 0–31 annually), and the long-term average HY:AHY ratio was 0.052; both metrics indicated similar interannual patterns. Evidence of a significant trend in either metric of reproductive output was not detected; although large overlap among interannual abundance and ratio estimates at the 95-percent confidence interval level made it difficult to evaluate interannual differences. Despite the apparent long-term stability in murrelet abundance in this region from 1999 to 2021, future long-term annual monitoring at sea will be critical to determine if the large-scale August 2020 CZU Santa Cruz Mountain wildfire that occurred adjacent to our study area affects local murrelet at-sea abundance and distribution. We also evaluated potential changes to survey and analytical design that could benefit this monitoring program in the future. Results indicated that eliminating the offshore stratum, focusing more effort on the nearshore stratum, and doing fewer surveys focused on a narrower timeframe could maintain or improve AHY trend estimates while preserving the ability to compare them to past years.

Publication Year 2023
Title Status, trend, and monitoring effectiveness of Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) at sea abundance and reproductive output off central California, 1999–2021
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231065
Authors Jonathan Felis, Josh Adams, Benjamin H. Becker
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2023-1065
Index ID ofr20231065
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center