Top marine predators, including Antarctic albatrosses, are bellwethers of human impacts on the ocean.
Many predator populations have severely declined over the past decades. Currently, two thirds of albatross species are categorised by IUCN as Threatened (Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered), and the remainder as Near-threatened. Understanding the factors affecting the population dynamics of these birds is essential to better inform conservation strategies. However, the inherent complexity of ecosystems makes unraveling the mechanisms underlying population dynamics difficult, and predicting future environmental impacts an even greater challenge. A multi-faceted approach is necessary to capture the linkages between physiology, behaviour, and the environment that underlie population level patterns. The goal of this project is to answer the question:
We are using a two pronged approach:
1) constructing, parameterizing, and validating an Individual Based Model (IBM) that rests on Dynamic Energy Budget theory and state dependent foraging theory
2) undertaking an in-depth meta-analysis of existing individual tracking and life history data from multiple albatross species across successive life stages.
This theoretical work will be grounded with a unique and extensive data set on albatrosses provided by collaborator Richard Phillips from the British Antarctic Survey. The IBM approach will incorporate details such as adult energetic state, chick needs and energetics, reproductive stage, and spatial and temporal variation in prey availability within a single framework. This facilitates exploration of emergent patterns, allowing us to explicitly link behavior, energetic, and population dynamics.
This work is funded by the NSF – OPP, award #1341649: