A critical responsibility of scientists working on life sciences is to pursue research on important problems and to incorporate new insights and discoveries into conservation practice. Protected areas are key tools for biodiversity conservation but this approach has only recently been applied to the marine environment and as a result less than 1% of the ocean’s surface is currently designated as marine protected areas (MPAs); in sharp contrast to 10 to 15% of the Earth land surface. Within the European framework, the member states have agreed to develop and implement action plans for the most threatened species, including seabirds.
The present project proposal tackles this challenge by focusing on two sympatric storm-petrel species, including one of the most recently described seabird species – Monteiro’s storm-petrel – a Vulnerable species, which is restricted to breeding on just two islets (Bolton et al. 2008). From an applied perspective, elucidating factors that influence breeding success such as foraging areas, diet and mate choice is fundamental for maintaining population viability in the long term.
Monteiro’s and band-rumped storm-petrels are long-lived, pelagic seabirds, member of the Procellariiformes, and are amongst the oldest and most threatened avian taxa on earth. Azorean storm-petrels have been studied by our team for over two decades and a very successful artificial colony with 150 nests has been established, providing exceptional conditions for in-depth studies.
Comparative information on foraging areas and effort, obtained from tracking with state-of-the art GPS and GLS loggers, will be related to variation in characteristics of the breeding strategy to determine to what extent oceanographic conditions influence population viability. Tracking will also allow us to elucidate differences in foraging ecology during chick provisioning and year-round distribution between the two storm-petrel species.
This study will also investigate differences in diet across species, sex and time, using a combination of techniques ranging from novel molecular methods (detection of prey DNA from predators’ faecal samples using pyrosequencing) to more established techniques such as stable isotope analysis and prey identification from regurgitations and stomach flushing.
Information on foraging grounds and breeding parameters will be related with diet data to shed light on the pressures involved in the morphological evolution of sibling species of storm-petrels with temporally segregated reproductive periods.
Lastly but equally important, the project will also use the at-sea distribution data to propose Marine Protected Areas for both species thus providing a direct benefit to the conservation of these populations, which is an important and valuable environmental impact of the project.
All fieldwork will be conducted in strict observance of European and Portuguese laws regarding animal manipulation and welfare.