Re-examining mortality sources and population trends in a declining seabird: using Bayesian methods to incorporate existing information and new data

Tim Reid, Mark Hindell, Jennifer L. Lavers, Chris Wilcox

PLoS One 8: e58230 (2013)

The population of flesh-footed shearwaters (Puffinus carneipes) breeding on Lord Howe Island was shown to be declining from the 1970's to the early 2000's. This was attributed to destruction of breeding habitat and fisheries mortality in the Australian Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery. Recent evidence suggests these impacts have ceased; presumably leading to population recovery. We used Bayesian statistical methods to combine data from the literature with more recent, but incomplete, field data to estimate population parameters and trends. This approach easily accounts for sources of variation and uncertainty while formally incorporating data and variation from different sources into the estimate. There is a 70% probability that the flesh-footed shearwater population on Lord Howe continued to decline during 2003–2009, and a number of possible reasons for this are suggested. During the breeding season, road-based mortality of adults on Lord Howe Island is likely to result in reduced adult survival and there is evidence that breeding success is negatively impacted by marine debris. Interactions with fisheries on flesh-footed shearwater winter grounds should be further investigated