Orben R. A., A. B. Fleishman, A. L. Borker, W. Bridgeland, A. J. Gladics, J. Porquez, P. Sanzenbacher, S. W. Stephensen,R. Swift, M. W. McKown, R. M. Suryan. 2019. Comparing imaging, acoustics, and radar to monitor Leach’s storm-petrel colonies. PeerJ 7:e6721 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6721
Seabirds are integral components of marine ecosystems and, with many populations globally threatened, there is a critical need for effective and scalable seabird monitoring strategies. Many seabird species nest in burrows, which can make traditional monitoring methods costly, infeasible, or damaging to nesting habitats. Traditional burrow occupancy surveys, where possible, can occur infrequently and therefore lead to an incomplete understanding of population trends. For example, in Oregon, during the last three decades there have been large changes in the abundance of Leach’s storm-petrels (Hydrobates leucorhoa), which included drastic declines at some colonies. Unfortunately, traditional monitoring failed to capture the timing and magnitude of change, limiting managers’ ability to determine causes of the decline and curtailing management options. New, easily repeatable methods of quantifying relative abundance are needed. For this study, we tested three methods of remote monitoring: passive acoustic monitoring, time-lapse cameras, and radar. Abundance indices derived from acoustics and imagery: call rates, acoustic energy, and counts were significantly related to traditional estimates of burrow occupancy of Leach’s storm-petrels. Due to sampling limitations, we were unable to compare radar to burrow occupancy. Image counts were significantly correlated with all other indices, including radar, while indices derived from acoustics and radar were not correlated. Acoustic data likely reflect different aspects of the population and hold the potential for the further development of indices to disentangle phenology, attendance of breeding birds, and reproductive success. We found that image counts are comparable with standard methods (e.g., radar) in producing annual abundance indices. We recommend that managers consider a sampling scheme that incorporates both acoustics and imaging, but for sites inaccessible to humans, radar remains the sole option. Implementation of acoustic and camera based monitoring programs will provide much needed information for a vulnerable group of seabirds.