Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Imagery to Characterise Pursuit-Diving Seabird Association With Tidal Stream Hydrodynamic Habitat Features

James Slingsby, Beth E Scott, Louise Kregting, Jason McIlvenny, Jared Wilson, Marion Yanez, Samuel Langlois, Benjamin J. Williamson

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Abstract

Tidal stream environments exhibit fast current flows and unique turbulent features occurring at fine spatio-temporal scales (metres and seconds). There is now global recognition of the importance of tidal stream environments for marine megafauna. Such areas are also key to the development of marine renewable energy due to the reliable and predictable nature of tidally driven flows. Bed-derived turbulent features, such as kolk-boils, transport organic material to the surface and may increase the availability of prey species (fish) for foraging marine megafauna (seabirds and marine mammals). Quantification of animal association and interactions with turbulent features is required to understand potential environmental impacts of tidal energy developments in these sites. Downward-facing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery was collected within the Pentland Firth, UK. Resulting imagery was used to quantify the density distribution of pursuit-diving seabirds, called auks (of the family Alcidae), distribution in comparison relation to concurrent surface imagery of kolk-boils and, analyse evaluate spatial relationships with individual kolk-boil features, and quantify body orientation relative to the water flow. Although variability was present, auk density distribution was generally correlated with that of kolk-boils throughout the study area; however, spatial analysis highlighted an overall trend of finer-scale dispersion between individual auks and kolk-boils. Auk orientation on the surface was primarily observed across the flow throughout ebb and flood tidal phases. These results suggest that auks may be associating with kolk-boil peripheries. Similarly, it may be energetically beneficial to orientate across the flow while maintaining observation of current flow or searching for shallow prey species and potential threats in the environment. This work demonstrates that UAV imagery was appropriate for quantification of fine-scale biophysical interactions. It allowed for concurrent measurement of hydrodynamic and predator metrics in a challenging environment and provided novel insights not possible to collect by conventional survey methodology. This technique can increase the evidence base for assessment of potential impacts of marine renewable energy extraction on key marine species.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2022

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