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Using seabird and whale distribution models to estimate spatial consumption of krill to inform fishery management


Warwick-Evans, Victoria et al. (2022), Using seabird and whale distribution models to estimate spatial consumption of krill to inform fishery management, Dryad, Dataset,


Ecosystem dynamics at the north-west Antarctic Peninsula are driven by interactions between physical and biological processes. For example, baleen whale populations are recovering from commercial harvesting against the backdrop of rapid climate change, including reduced sea-ice extent and changing ecosystem composition. Concurrently, the commercial harvesting of Antarctic krill is increasing, with the potential to increase the likelihood for competition with and between krill predators and the fishery. However, understanding the ecology, abundance, and spatial distribution of krill predators is often limited, outdated, or at spatial scales that do not match those desired for effective fisheries management. We update current knowledge of predator dependence on krill by integrating telemetry-based data, at-sea observational surveys, estimates of predator abundance, and physiological data to estimate the spatial distribution of krill consumption during the austral summer by three species of Pygoscelis penguin, 11 species of flying seabirds, one species of pinniped and two species of baleen whale. Our models show that the majority of important areas for krill-predator foraging are close to penguin breeding colonies in nearshore areas where humpback whales also regularly feed, and along the shelf-break, though we caution that not all known krill predators are included in these analyses. We show that krill consumption is highly variable across the region, and often concentrated at fine spatial scales, emphasising the need for management of the local krill fishery at relevant temporal and spatial scales. We also note that krill consumption by recovering populations of krill predators provides further evidence in support of the krill surplus hypothesis, and highlight that despite less than comprehensive data, cetaceans are likely to consume a significant proportion of the krill consumed by natural predators but are not currently considered directly in the management of the krill fishery. If management of the krill fishery is to be precautionary and operate in a way that minimises the risks to krill predator populations, it will be necessary in future analyses, to include up-to-date and precise abundance and consumption estimates for pack-ice seals, finfish, squid, and other baleen whale species not currently considered.

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