CIE Spotlight: Determining trends and environmental drivers from long-term marine mammal and seabird data: examples from Southern Australia

John A.

John A.

TitleDetermining trends and environmental drivers from long-term marine mammal and seabird data: examples from Southern Australia.

Authors: Chambers, Lynda E.; Patterson, Toby; Hobday, Alistair J.; Arnould, John P. Y.; Tuck, Geoffrey N.; Wilcox, Chris; Dann, Peter.

Source: REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE, 15 (1):197-209, JAN 2015.

Brief summary of the paper: Climate change is acknowledged as an emerging threat for top-order marine predators, yet obtaining evidence of impacts is often difficult.

In south-eastern Australia, a marine global warming hotspot, evidence suggests that climate change will profoundly affect pinnipeds and seabirds. Long-term data series are available to assess some species’ responses to climate.

Researchers have measured a variety of chronological and population variables, such as laying dates, chick or pup production, colony-specific abundance and breeding success.

Here, we consider the challenges in accurately assessing trends in marine predator data, using long-term data series that were originally collected for other purposes, and how these may be driven by environmental change and variability.

In the past, many studies of temporal changes and environmental drivers used linear analyses and we demonstrate the (theoretical) relationship between the magnitude of a trend, its variability, and the duration of a data series required to detect a linear trend. However, species may respond to environmental change in a nonlinear manner and, based on analysis of time-series from south-eastern Australia, it appears that the assumptions of a linear model are often violated, particularly for measures of population size.

The commonly measured demographic variables exhibit different degrees of variation, which influences the ability to detect climate signals. Due to their generally lower year-to-year variability, we illustrate that monitoring of variables such as mass and breeding chronology should allow detection of temporal trends earlier in a monitoring programme than observations of breeding success and population size. Thus, establishing temporal changes with respect to climate change from a monitoring programme over a relatively short time period requires careful a priori choice of biological variables.