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Pelagic ecology of diving seabirds: Determination of their movements and behavior by means of high resolution remote sensing devices

The Patagonian shelf constitutes and important reproductive and foraging habitat for several seabird species. Imperial cormorants (Phalacrocorax atriceps) are important top predators of the Patagonian Shelf ecosystem and face significant threats such as the incidental mortality in fishing nets and other operational interactions. Many of the solutions to these problems require accurate knowledge of their behavior and at-sea distribution. Research and long-term monitoring are crucial for the development and implementation of effective conservation strategies for marine top predators within the large marine ecosystem of the Patagonian shelf.

Recent technological advances have allowed the collection of crucial information to start answering questions regarding foraging patterns, foraging areas and feeding behavior of seabirds. The employment of devices that can register the tridimentional position of animals, the characteristics of the environment in which animals forage, and the behavior and amount of energy that they employ in the activities they perform make it possible to study the foraging behavior and distribution of seabirds. The use of this kind of technology will speed up the rate and accuracy of data collection and analysis of at-sea behavior to improve and accelerate conservation actions.

This project supported a training experience in Wales, UK for a doctoral student from Argentina. Laich deployed a series of the tridimentional instruments on Imperial cormorants and traveled to the UK with her data to work with the expert team that builds the transmitters and develops the data analysis software. Laich’s data analysis revealed that this new technology was capable of providing detailed information regarding energy budgets – time spent resting, walking, and foraging, including detailed phases such as descent, accelerations during presumed feeding events, and ascents. These instruments are small and lightweight, and can be deployed on many aquatic and terrestrial species that have to date been too small to carry instrumentation. Laich’s work testing the instruments and advancing data patterns and interpretation provides a basis for application to numerous species for which conservation will depend on a greater understanding of behavior.

See the publication Identification of imperial cormorant Phalacrocorax atriceps behaviour using accelerometers.