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Data from: Spatio-temporal modelling of auk abundance after the Erika oil spill and implications for conservation

Cite this dataset

Le Rest, Kévin; Certain, Grégoire; Debétencourt, Benjamin; Bretagnolle, Vincent (2016). Data from: Spatio-temporal modelling of auk abundance after the Erika oil spill and implications for conservation [Dataset]. Dryad.


Species distribution models are widely used in applied ecology and conservation. While accounting for spatial dependences is now the rule, temporal dependences have rarely been dealt with explicitly. In this study, we analyse wintering auk distribution in the Bay of Biscay and English Channel and estimate changes in abundance within and between years while accounting for space–time dependencies. We then propose a retrospective estimate of the impact of the Erika oil spill that occurred in December 1999. Two series of extensive aerial surveys, repeated at intervals of 1–2 months, were carried out at a 10-year interval off the French Atlantic coast (2001–2002 and 2011–2012). Spatially and temporally explicit Bayesian models were fitted to these data to provide spatio-temporal predictions of auk abundance. These were then used to compare abundances within the area affected by the Erika oil spill two and twelve years after the catastrophe. The results showed that 1·55 million auks wintered in the study area in 2011–2012. The main wintering area was the English Channel (more than one million auks) but the Bay of Biscay also became an important area in the middle of winter (470 000 auks) owing to a strong southward shift in auk distribution. Two years after the catastrophe (2001–2002), the area affected by the Erika oil spill hosted a small proportion of auks of the Bay of Biscay – about 80 000 individuals. This number increased by more than three times 10 years later and reached 270 000 individuals, whereas no significant change was detected elsewhere. We suggest that it could result from a recovery after the extra-mortality induced by the Erika oil spill. Policy implications. This study identified major auk wintering areas, with abundances much higher than previously realized. Oil spills have occurred regularly in these areas, with major delayed impacts on auk breeding populations. The worst case scenario would be if a major oil spill occurred in the English Channel in February, when abundance reaches one million auks. Although such a disaster has not so far occurred, stricter policies on the transport of hydrocarbons should be implemented to prevent such a possibility.

Usage notes


Bay of Biscay
English Channel
Celtic Sea
Irish Sea
North Sea