To date, most habitat models of cetaceans have relied on static and oceanographic covariates, and very few have related cetaceans directly to the distribution of their prey, as a result of the limited availability of prey data. By simulating the distribution of six functional micronekton groups between the surface and ?1,000 m deep, the SEAPODYM model provides valuable insights into prey distributions. We used SEAPODYM outputs to investigate the habitat of three cetacean guilds with increasing energy requirements: sperm and beaked whales, Globicephalinae and Delphininae. We expected High Energy Requirements cetaceans to preferentially forage in habitats of high prey biomass and/or production, where they might easily meet their high energetic needs, and Low Energy Requirements cetaceans to forage in habitats of either high or low prey biomass and/or production. Cetacean sightings were collected from dedicated aerial surveys in the South West Indian Ocean (SWIO) and French Polynesia (FP). We examined cetacean densities in relation to simulated distributions of their potential prey using Generalised Additive Models and predicted their habitats in both regions. Results supported their known diving abilities, with Delphininae mostly related to prey present in the upper layers of the water column, and Globicephalinae and sperm and beaked whales also related to prey present in deeper layers. Explained deviances ranged from 9% for sperm and beaked whales in the SWIO to 47% for Globicephalinae in FP. Delphininae and Globicephalinae appeared to select areas where high prey biomass and/or production were available at shallow depths. In contrast, sperm and beaked whales showed less clear habitat selection. Using simulated prey distributions as predictors in cetacean habitat models is crucial to understand their strategies of habitat selection in the three dimensions of the ocean.
Despite no obvious barriers to gene flow in the marine realm, environmental variation and ecological specializations can lead to genetic differentiation in highly mobile predators. Here, we investigated the genetic structure of the harbour porpoise over the entire species distribution range in western Palearctic waters. Combined analyses of 10 microsatellite loci and a 5085 base-pair portion of the mitochondrial genome revealed the existence of three ecotypes, equally divergent at the mitochondrial genome, distributed in the Black Sea (BS), the European continental shelf waters, and a previously overlooked ecotype in the upwelling zones of Iberia and Mauritania. Historical demographic inferences using approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) suggest that these ecotypes diverged during the last glacial maximum (c. 23-19 kilo-years ago, kyrbp). ABC supports the hypothesis that the BS and upwelling ecotypes share a more recent common ancestor (c. 14 kyrbp) than either does with the European continental shelf ecotype (c. 28 kyrbp), suggesting they probably descended from the extinct populations that once inhabited the Mediterranean during the glacial and post-glacial period. We showed that the two Atlantic ecotypes established a narrow admixture zone in the Bay of Biscay during the last millennium, with highly asymmetric gene flow. This study highlights the impacts that climate change may have on the distribution and speciation process in pelagic predators and shows that allopatric divergence can occur in these highly mobile species and be a source of genetic diversity.
Understanding 'Why a prey is a prey for a given predator?' can be facilitated through trait-based approaches that identify linkages between prey and predator morphological and ecological characteristics and highlight key functions involved in prey selection. Enhanced understanding of the functional relationships between predators and their prey is now essential to go beyond the traditional taxonomic framework of dietary studies and to improve our knowledge of ecosystem functioning for wildlife conservation and management. We test the relevance of a three-matrix approach in foraging ecology among a marine mammal community in the northeast Atlantic to identify the key functional traits shaping prey selection processes regardless of the taxonomy of both the predators and prey. Our study reveals that prey found in the diet of marine mammals possess functional traits which are directly and significantly linked to predator characteristics, allowing the establishment of a functional typology of marine mammal-prey relationships. We found prey selection of marine mammals was primarily shaped by physiological and morphological traits of both predators and prey, confirming that energetic costs of foraging strategies and muscular performance are major drivers of prey selection in marine mammals. We demonstrate that trait-based approaches can provide a new definition of the resource needs of predators. This framework can be used to anticipate bottom-up effects on marine predator population dynamics and to identify predators which are sensitive to the loss of key prey functional traits when prey availability is reduced.
The temperate waters of the North-Eastern Atlantic have a long history of maritime resource richness and, as a result, the European Union is endeavouring to maintain regional productivity and biodiversity. At the intersection of these aims lies potential conflict, signalling the need for integrated, cross-border management approaches. This paper focuses on the marine megafauna of the region. This guild of consumers was formerly abundant, but is now depleted and protected under various national and international legislative structures. We present a meta-analysis of available megafauna datasets using presence-only distribution models to characterise suitable habitat and identify spatially-important regions within the English Channel and southern bight of the North Sea. The integration of studies from dedicated and opportunistic observer programmes in the United Kingdom and France provide a valuable perspective on the spatial and seasonal distribution of various taxonomic groups, including large pelagic fishes and sharks, marine mammals, seabirds and marine turtles. The Western English Channel emerged as a hotspot of biodiversity for megafauna, while species richness was low in the Eastern English Channel. Spatial conservation planning is complicated by the highly mobile nature of marine megafauna, however they are important components of the marine environment and understanding their distribution is a first crucial step toward their inclusion into marine ecosystem management.
Ecological indicators for monitoring strategies are expected to combine three major characteristics: ecological significance, statistical credibility, and cost-effectiveness. Strategies based on stranding networks rank highly in cost-effectiveness, but their ecological significance and statistical credibility are disputed. Our present goal is to improve the value of stranding data as population indicator as part of monitoring strategies by constructing the spatial and temporal null hypothesis for strandings. The null hypothesis is defined as: small cetacean distribution and mortality are uniform in space and constant in time. We used a drift model to map stranding probabilities and predict stranding patterns of cetacean carcasses under H0 across the North Sea, the Channel and the Bay of Biscay, for the period 1990-2009. As the most common cetacean occurring in this area, we chose the harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena for our modelling. The difference between these strandings expected under H0 and observed strandings is defined as the stranding anomaly. It constituted the stranding data series corrected for drift conditions. Seasonal decomposition of stranding anomaly suggested that drift conditions did not explain observed seasonal variations of porpoise strandings. Long-term stranding anomalies increased first in the southern North Sea, the Channel and Bay of Biscay coasts, and finally the eastern North Sea. The hypothesis of changes in porpoise distribution was consistent with local visual surveys, mostly SCANS surveys (1994 and 2005). This new indicator could be applied to cetacean populations across the world and more widely to marine megafauna.
Recent climate change has triggered profound reorganization in northeast Atlantic ecosystems, with substantial impact on the distribution of marine assemblages from plankton to fishes. However, assessing the repercussions on apex marine predators remains a challenging issue, especially for pelagic species. In this study, we use Bayesian coalescent modelling of microsatellite variation to track the population demographic history of one of the smallest temperate cetaceans, the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in European waters. Combining genetic inferences with palaeo-oceanographic and historical records provides strong evidence that populations of harbour porpoises have responded markedly to the recent climate-driven reorganization in the eastern North Atlantic food web. This response includes the isolation of porpoises in Iberian waters from those further north only approximately 300 years ago with a predominant northward migration, contemporaneous with the warming trend underway since the Little Ice Age period and with the ongoing retreat of cold-water fishes from the Bay of Biscay. The extinction or exodus of harbour porpoises from the Mediterranean Sea (leaving an isolated relict population in the Black Sea) has lacked a coherent explanation. The present results suggest that the fragmentation of harbour distribution range in the Mediterranean Sea was triggered during the warm Mid-Holocene Optimum period (approx. 5000 years ago), by the end of the post-glacial nutrient-rich Sapropel conditions that prevailed before that time.
Understanding the mechanisms that drive prey selection is a major challenge in foraging ecology. Most studies of foraging strategies have focused on behavioural costs, and have generally failed to recognize that differences in the quality of prey may be as important to predators as the costs of acquisition. Here, we tested whether there is a relationship between the quality of diets (kJ · g(-1)) consumed by cetaceans in the North Atlantic and their metabolic costs of living as estimated by indicators of muscle performance (mitochondrial density, n = 60, and lipid content, n = 37). We found that the cost of living of 11 cetacean species is tightly coupled with the quality of prey they consume. This relationship between diet quality and cost of living appears to be independent of phylogeny and body size, and runs counter to predictions that stem from the well-known scaling relationships between mass and metabolic rates. Our finding suggests that the quality of prey rather than the sheer quantity of food is a major determinant of foraging strategies employed by predators to meet their specific energy requirements. This predator-specific dependence on food quality appears to reflect the evolution of ecological strategies at a species level, and has implications for risk assessment associated with the consequences of changing the quality and quantities of prey available to top predators in marine ecosystems.
Fisheries interactions have been implicated in the decline of many marine vertebrates worldwide. In the eastern North Atlantic, at least 1000 common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) are bycaught each year, particularly in pelagic pair-trawls. We have assessed the resulting impact of bycatch on this population using a demographic modeling approach. We relied on a sample of females stranded along the French Atlantic and western Channel coasts. Strandings represent an extensive source of demographic information to monitor our study population. Necropsy analysis provided an estimate of individual age and reproductive state. Then we estimated effective survivorship (including natural and human-induced mortality), age at first reproduction and pregnancy rates. Reproductive parameters were consistent with literature, but effective survivorship was unexpectedly low. Demographic parameters were then used as inputs in two models. A constant parameter matrix proposed an effective growth rate of -5.5±0.5%, corresponding to the current situation (including bycatch mortality). Subsequently, deterministic projections suggested that the population would be reduced to 20% of its current size in 30 years and would be extinct in 100 years. The demographic invariant model suggested a maximum growth rate of +4.5±0.09%, corresponding to the optimal demographic situation. Then, a risk analysis incorporating Potential Biological Removal (PBR), based on two plausible scenarii for stock structure suggested that bycatch level was unsustainable for the neritic population of the Bay of Biscay under a two-stock scenario. In depth assessment of stock structure and improved observer programs to provide scientifically robust bycatch estimates are needed. Effective conservation measures would be reducing bycatch to less than 50% of the current level in the neritic stock to reach PBR. Our approach provided indicators of the status and trajectory of the common dolphin population in the eastern North Atlantic and therefore proved to be a valuable tool for management, applicable to other dolphin populations.
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