Foraging distribution of breeding northern fulmars is predicted by commercial fisheries

Darby JH* (Corresponding Author), Dde Grissac S, Arneill GE, Pirotta E, Waggitt JJ, Börger L, Shepard E, Cabot D, Owen E, Bolton M, Edwards EWJ, Thompson PM, Quinn JL, Jessopp M

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


ABSTRACT: Habitat-use and distribution models are essential tools of conservation biology. For wide-ranging species, such models may be challenged by the expanse, remoteness and variability of their habitat, these challenges often being compounded by the species’ mobility. In marine environments, direct observations and sampling are usually impractical over broad regions, and instead remotely sensed proxies of prey availability are often used to link species abundance or foraging behaviour to areas that are expected to provide food consistently. One source of food consumed by many marine top predators is fisheries waste, but habitat-use models rarely account for this interaction. We assessed the utility of commercial fishing effort as a covariate in foraging habitat models for northern fulmars Fulmarus glacialis, a species known to exploit fisheries waste, during their summer breeding season. First, we investigated the prevalence of fulmar-vessel interactions using concurrently tracked fulmars and fishing vessels. We infer that over half of our study individuals associate with fishing vessels while foraging, mostly with trawl-type vessels. We then used hidden Markov models to explain the spatio-temporal distribution of putative foraging behaviour as a function of a range of covariates. Persistent commercial fishing effort was a significant predictor of foraging behaviour, and was more important than commonly used environmental covariates retained in the model. This study demonstrates the effect of commercial fisheries on the foraging distribution and behaviour of a marine top predator, and supports the idea that, in some systems, incorporating human activities into distribution studies can improve model fit substantially.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-194
Number of pages14
JournalMar Ecol Prog Ser
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements. J.H.D. was funded by the Irish Re- search Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme, supported by the Petroleum Infrastructure Program. Field work on Lit- tle Saltee in 2018 and 2019 and S.d.G. were funded by the BlueFish project, funded by the European Regional Devel- opment fund through the Ireland Wales Co-operation Pro- gramme 2014−2020. Fieldwork on Eynhallow and St. Kilda was supported by Orkney Islands Council, the University of Aberdeen, the National Trust for Scotland and Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd. E.W.J.E. was funded by a Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland and University of Aberdeen studentship. Fieldwork elsewhere was funded by the EU Atlantic area INTERREG program via the Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment (FAME) project and by the RSPB, JNCC, Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust and Marine Scotland, through the Seabird Tracking And Research (STAR) project. We are grateful for field assistance from Ash Bennison, Cian Luck, Yvan Satge, Juliet Lamb, Chris Bell, Mara Nydegger, Robert Hughes, Elizabeth Mackley, Richard Bufton, Jenni Border, Derren Fox, Tegan Newman, Daisy Burnell, Antoine Grissott and Chris Taylor. Marine Scotland Science and the Marine Institute provided access to anony- mized VMS data. G.E.A. was funded by the MarPAMM pro- ject supported by the EU INTERREG VA Programme, man- aged by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). The views and opinions expressed in this manuscript do not nec- essarily reflect those of the European Commission or the SEUPB. Go raibh míle maith agaibh, Pat and Liezel of Little Saltee for their outstanding support and hospitality.


  • Fisheries
  • Discards
  • Marine conservation
  • Foraging behaviour
  • Habitat use
  • Anthropogenic food source


Dive into the research topics of 'Foraging distribution of breeding northern fulmars is predicted by commercial fisheries'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this