Population modelling of European shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) at their southern limit: conservation implications

Velando, A. and Freire, J., 2002. Population modelling of European shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) at their southern limit: conservation implications. Biological Conservation, 107(1), pp.59-69.

The European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) population at Cíes Islands (the most important breeding area in its southern limit) increased rapidly from 1986 to 1992, and afterwards the population suffered a slight decline. This study analyzed population data obtained from ringing recoveries and reproductive monitoring between 1993 and 1997. The reproductive success was highly variable and associated with adverse weather events. Adult survival rate was very low compared with other colonies, probably due to high accidental capture in gill-nets. In recent years, the fishing effort with gill-nets increased in the study area. Sensitivity analysis of parameters showed that the population is more affected by changes in adult survival than in reproductive success. When dynamic simulations were run with an increase in shag mortality of 5% above the present level, population extinction occurred in all simulations. In contrast, when a reduction of mortality of 5% was introduced in the simulations, the population increased in all cases. The main lines of action to study and protect this population should be: (1) ringing schemes to obtain better estimates of survival variability; (2) studies on the interaction of feeding areas and fishing vessels; (3) regulations on gill-netting; and (4) the incorporation of population models as an adaptive management tool to synthesize assessment work and management scenarios.

Heterozygosity–fitness correlations in a declining seabird population

Velando, A., Barros, Á. & Moran, P. Heterozygosity–fitness correlations in a declining seabird population. Molecular ecology 24, 1007–1018 (2015).

Loss of genetic diversity is thought to lead to increased risk of extinction in endangered populations due to decreasing fitness of homozygous individuals. Here, we evaluated the presence of inbreeding depression in a long-lived seabird, the European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), after a severe decline in population size by nearly 70%. During three reproductive seasons, 85 breeders were captured and genotyped at seven microsatellite loci. Nest sites were monitored during the breeding season to estimate reproductive success as the number of chicks surviving to full-size-grown per nest. Captured birds were tagged with a ring with an individual code, and resighting data were collected during 7-year period. We found a strong effect of multilocus heterozygosity on female reproductive performance, and a significant, although weaker, effect on breeder survival. However, our matrix population model suggests that this relatively small effect of genetic diversity on breeder survival may have a profound effect on fitness. This highlights the importance of integrating life history consequences in HFC studies. Importantly, heterozygosity was correlated across loci, suggesting that genomewide effects, rather than single loci, are responsible for the observed HFCs. Overall, the HFCs are a worrying symptom of genetic erosion in this declining population. Many long-lived species are prone to extinction, and future studies should evaluate the magnitude of fitness impact of genetic deterioration on key population parameters, such as survival of breeders.

Are edge bird populations doomed to extinction? A retrospective analysis of the common guillemot collapse in Iberia

Munilla, I., Díez, C. & Velando, A. Are edge bird populations doomed to extinction? A retrospective analysis of the common guillemot collapse in Iberia. Biological Conservation 137, 359–371 (2007).

In the first half of the XXth century, the common guillemot (Uria aalge) was the seabird with the largest breeding population in Atlantic Iberia (ca. 20,000 individuals), the low-latitude limit of the species breeding range. However, this population suffered a dramatic decline and is quasi-extinct at present. The decline was believed to be associated with reduced availability of pelagic prey fish due to climate change. In this study, we analyzed the population change of Iberian guillemots in the second half of the XXth century by means of a retrospective analysis. Our study showed that between 1960 and 1974 the guillemots in Iberia suffered a dramatic population crash (33.3% annual decline) and that subsequently, the population continued to decline at a slower annual rate (13.4%). Simulation models indicated that the factors driving the population crash should be related to adult survival, rather than reproduction. The analysis of environmental and fishery data suggested good climate conditions and higher or sustained availability of pelagic prey fish when the Iberian guillemots crashed. In contrast, relevant human-related factors were affecting adult mortality in that period, specially a rapid and large increase in the number of synthetic fishing nets. During the collapse, no conservation measures were undertaken to mitigate anthropogenic threats and it was assumed, in some extent, that this low-latitude edge population was somehow prone to extinction as a consequence of climate change. This study high- lights that to carelessly attribute the decline of rear edge populations to climate change could be highly misleading if the population is suffering from other, particularly human, threats.