Habitat-based density models of pack-ice seal distribution in the southern Weddell Sea, Antarctica


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Horst.Bornemann [ at ] awi.de

Abstract

Climate variability and changes in sea ice dynamics have caused several ice-obligate or krill-dependent populations of marine predators to decline, eliciting concern about their demographic persistence and the indirect ecological consequences that predator depletions may have on marine ecosystems. Pack-ice seals are dominant ice-obligate predators in the Antarctic marine ecosystem, but there is considerable uncertainty about their abundance and population trends. We modelled the density and distribution of pack-ice seals as a function of environmental covariates in the southern Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Our density surface modelling approach used data from aerial surveys of pack-ice seals collected in the 2013/14 austral summer. Crabeater seals Lobo don carcinophaga, the most numerous pack-ice seal we observed, occurred at the highest densities in areas with extensive sea ice near the continental shelf break, but were almost absent in areas of similar sea ice concentration in the southern extent of the Weddell Sea. The highest densities of Weddell seals Leptonychotes weddelli, which were less abundant than crabeater seals within the pack-ice habitat, were predicted to occur over the continental shelf, near the shelf break. The distribution of both seal species broadly corresponded with the distribution and relative abundance of their main prey (Antarctic krill Euphausia superba and Antarctic silverfish Pleuragramma antarctica) obtained from concurrent ecosystem surveys. Ross seals Ommatophoca rossii and leopard seals Hydrurga leptonyx were not detected at all and are apparently rare within the southern Weddell Sea. These results can contribute to biodiversity assessments in the context of marine protected area planning in this region of the Southern Ocean.



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Article
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Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
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ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
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Published
Eprint ID
54561
DOI 10.3354/meps13787

Cite as
Oosthuizen, W. C. , Reisinger, R. R. , Bester, M. N. , Steinhage, D. , Auel, H. , Flores, H. , Knust, R. , Ryan, S. and Bornemann, H. (2021): Habitat-based density models of pack-ice seal distribution in the southern Weddell Sea, Antarctica , Marine Ecology Progress Series, 673 , pp. 211-227 . doi: 10.3354/meps13787


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