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Keywords:

  • central-place foragers;
  • global positioning system;
  • home-range area;
  • marine protected area

Summary

  1. In recent years, marine predator and seabird tracking studies have become ever more popular. However, they are often conducted without first considering how many individuals should be tracked and for how long they should be tracked in order to make reliable predictions of a population's home-range area.

  2. Home-range area analysis of two seabird-tracking data sets was used to define the area of active use (where birds spent 100% of their time) and the core foraging area (where birds spent 50% of their time). Analysis was conducted on the first foraging trip undertaken by the birds and then the first two, three and four foraging trips combined. Appropriate asymptotic models were applied to the data, and the calculated home-range areas were plotted as a function of an increasing number of individuals and trips included in the sample. Data were extrapolated from these models to predict the area of active use and the core foraging area of the colonies sampled.

  3. Significant variability was found in the home-range area predictions made by analysis of the first foraging trip and the first four foraging trips combined. For shags, the first foraging trip predicted a 56% smaller area of active use when compared to the predictions made by combining the first four foraging trips. For kittiwakes, a 43% smaller area was predicted when comparing the first foraging trip with the four combined trips.

  4. The number of individuals that would be required to predict the home range area of the colony depends greatly on the number of trips included in the analysis. This analysis predicted that 39 (confidence interval 29–73) shags and 83 (CI: 109–161) kittiwakes would be required to predict 95% of the area of active use when the first four foraging trips are included in the sample compared with 135 (CI 96–156) shags and 248 (164–484) kittiwakes when only the first trip is included in the analysis.

  5. Synthesis and applications. Seabird and marine mammal tracking studies are increasingly being used to aid the designation of marine conservation zones and to predict important foraging areas. We suggest that many studies may be underestimating the size of these foraging areas and that better estimates could be made by considering both the duration and number of data logger deployments. Researchers intending to draw conclusions from tracking data should conduct a similar analysis of their data as used in this study to determine the reliability of their home-range area predictions.