Understanding at-sea habitat use of giant petrels through shipboard observations

Supervisory Team:

Stuart Corney (with contributions from HDr students Ben Viola and Sophia Volzke)

Brief project description:

Seabirds are a diverse and ecologically important family, often recognised as indicators of ecosystem health (Hazen et al., 2019). As hyper-mobile top-order predators, seabirds sample vast areas when foraging – which amplifies trophic information across a range of spatiotemporal dimensions (Hazen et al., 2019). Top-order predators are typically keystone species – meaning that they have a disproportionate effect on the persistence of other species within an ecosystem (Bond 1994) – and as such, an understanding of seabird ecology can grant insights towards broader ecosystem dynamics, and the impact of anthropogenic pressures such as over-fishing, pollution, or climate change (Einoder 2009; Baak et al., 2020; Groff et al., 2020).

To date, much of the work on Antarctic seabirds has been based around breeding sites, and those that have focussed on seabirds at-sea have largely occurred around the West Antarctic Peninsula (as outlined in Ainley et al., 2017). This deficiency of data is somewhat due to the feasibility and difficulties associated with shipboard surveys (Viola et al., 2022). However, for the past six decades, the Australian Antarctic Division has collected opportunistic observation data during re-supply and scientific voyages. Previous studies make important contributions to our knowledge of Antarctic seabird ecology, but significant gaps regarding the at-sea habitat use persist for many Antarctic seabird species (Ainley et al., 2017).

This study seeks to quantify marine habitat use of Antarctic seabirds using data derived from historical shipboard survey efforts.

Skills students will develop during this research project:

  • Data analysis using the R programming platform
  • Use and manipulation of gridded environmental data and model output
  • Manipulation of at-sea observational data sets
  • Understanding of and familiarity with strengths and limitations of observational data and environmental model output
  • Understanding of how environment drives habitat preference and exploitation by a Southern Ocean sea bird
Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
May 16, 2023