Key seabird areas in southern New England identified using a community occupancy model

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Seabirds are of conservation concern, and as new potential risks to seabirds are arising, the need to provide unbiased estimates of species' distributions is growing. We applied community occupancy models to detection/non-detection data collected from repeated aerial striptransect surveys conducted in 2 large study plots off southern New England, USA; one off the coast of Rhode Island and the other in Nantucket Sound. A total of 17 seabird species were observed at least once in each study plot. We found that detection varied by survey date and effort for most species and the average detection probability across species was less than 0.4. We estimated the influence of water depth, sea surface temperature, and sea surface chl a concentration on species-specific occupancy. Diving species showed large differences between the 2 study plots in their predicted winter distributions, which were largely explained by water depth acting as a stronger predictor of occupancy in Rhode Island than in Nantucket Sound. Conversely, similarities between the 2 study plots in predicted winter distributions of surface-feeding species were explained by sea surface temperature or chlorophyll a concentration acting as predictors of these species' occupancy in both study plots. We predicted the number of species at each site using the observed data in order to detect 'hot-spots' of seabird diversity and use in the 2 study plots. These results provide new information on detection of species, areas of use, and relationships with environmental variables that will be valuable for biologists and planners interested in seabird conservation in the region.

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Marine Ecology Progress Series