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1.  Combining Methods to Describe Important Marine Habitats for Top Predators: Application to Identify Biological Hotspots in Tropical Waters 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e115057.
In tropical waters resources are usually scarce and patchy, and predatory species generally show specific adaptations for foraging. Tropical seabirds often forage in association with sub-surface predators that create feeding opportunities by bringing prey close to the surface, and the birds often aggregate in large multispecific flocks. Here we hypothesize that frigatebirds, a tropical seabird adapted to foraging with low energetic costs, could be a good predictor of the distribution of their associated predatory species, including other seabirds (e.g. boobies, terns) and subsurface predators (e.g., dolphins, tunas). To test this hypothesis, we compared distribution patterns of marine predators in the Mozambique Channel based on a long-term dataset of both vessel- and aerial surveys, as well as tracking data of frigatebirds. By developing species distribution models (SDMs), we identified key marine areas for tropical predators in relation to contemporaneous oceanographic features to investigate multi-species spatial overlap areas and identify predator hotspots in the Mozambique Channel. SDMs reasonably matched observed patterns and both static (e.g. bathymetry) and dynamic (e.g. Chlorophyll a concentration and sea surface temperature) factors were important explaining predator distribution patterns. We found that the distribution of frigatebirds included the distributions of the associated species. The central part of the channel appeared to be the best habitat for the four groups of species considered in this study (frigatebirds, brown terns, boobies and sub-surface predators).
PMCID: PMC4262456  PMID: 25494047
2.  Predicting Cetacean Habitats from Their Energetic Needs and the Distribution of Their Prey in Two Contrasted Tropical Regions 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e105958.
To date, most habitat models of cetaceans have relied on static and oceanographic covariates, and very few have related cetaceans directly to the distribution of their prey, as a result of the limited availability of prey data. By simulating the distribution of six functional micronekton groups between the surface and ≃1,000 m deep, the SEAPODYM model provides valuable insights into prey distributions. We used SEAPODYM outputs to investigate the habitat of three cetacean guilds with increasing energy requirements: sperm and beaked whales, Globicephalinae and Delphininae. We expected High Energy Requirements cetaceans to preferentially forage in habitats of high prey biomass and/or production, where they might easily meet their high energetic needs, and Low Energy Requirements cetaceans to forage in habitats of either high or low prey biomass and/or production. Cetacean sightings were collected from dedicated aerial surveys in the South West Indian Ocean (SWIO) and French Polynesia (FP). We examined cetacean densities in relation to simulated distributions of their potential prey using Generalised Additive Models and predicted their habitats in both regions. Results supported their known diving abilities, with Delphininae mostly related to prey present in the upper layers of the water column, and Globicephalinae and sperm and beaked whales also related to prey present in deeper layers. Explained deviances ranged from 9% for sperm and beaked whales in the SWIO to 47% for Globicephalinae in FP. Delphininae and Globicephalinae appeared to select areas where high prey biomass and/or production were available at shallow depths. In contrast, sperm and beaked whales showed less clear habitat selection. Using simulated prey distributions as predictors in cetacean habitat models is crucial to understand their strategies of habitat selection in the three dimensions of the ocean.
PMCID: PMC4146581  PMID: 25162643
3.  Understanding the Distribution of Marine Megafauna in the English Channel Region: Identifying Key Habitats for Conservation within the Busiest Seaway on Earth 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89720.
The temperate waters of the North-Eastern Atlantic have a long history of maritime resource richness and, as a result, the European Union is endeavouring to maintain regional productivity and biodiversity. At the intersection of these aims lies potential conflict, signalling the need for integrated, cross-border management approaches. This paper focuses on the marine megafauna of the region. This guild of consumers was formerly abundant, but is now depleted and protected under various national and international legislative structures. We present a meta-analysis of available megafauna datasets using presence-only distribution models to characterise suitable habitat and identify spatially-important regions within the English Channel and southern bight of the North Sea. The integration of studies from dedicated and opportunistic observer programmes in the United Kingdom and France provide a valuable perspective on the spatial and seasonal distribution of various taxonomic groups, including large pelagic fishes and sharks, marine mammals, seabirds and marine turtles. The Western English Channel emerged as a hotspot of biodiversity for megafauna, while species richness was low in the Eastern English Channel. Spatial conservation planning is complicated by the highly mobile nature of marine megafauna, however they are important components of the marine environment and understanding their distribution is a first crucial step toward their inclusion into marine ecosystem management.
PMCID: PMC3938532  PMID: 24586985
5.  The Stranding Anomaly as Population Indicator: The Case of Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena in North-Western Europe 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e62180.
Ecological indicators for monitoring strategies are expected to combine three major characteristics: ecological significance, statistical credibility, and cost-effectiveness. Strategies based on stranding networks rank highly in cost-effectiveness, but their ecological significance and statistical credibility are disputed. Our present goal is to improve the value of stranding data as population indicator as part of monitoring strategies by constructing the spatial and temporal null hypothesis for strandings. The null hypothesis is defined as: small cetacean distribution and mortality are uniform in space and constant in time. We used a drift model to map stranding probabilities and predict stranding patterns of cetacean carcasses under H0 across the North Sea, the Channel and the Bay of Biscay, for the period 1990–2009. As the most common cetacean occurring in this area, we chose the harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena for our modelling. The difference between these strandings expected under H0 and observed strandings is defined as the stranding anomaly. It constituted the stranding data series corrected for drift conditions. Seasonal decomposition of stranding anomaly suggested that drift conditions did not explain observed seasonal variations of porpoise strandings. Long-term stranding anomalies increased first in the southern North Sea, the Channel and Bay of Biscay coasts, and finally the eastern North Sea. The hypothesis of changes in porpoise distribution was consistent with local visual surveys, mostly SCANS surveys (1994 and 2005). This new indicator could be applied to cetacean populations across the world and more widely to marine megafauna.
PMCID: PMC3632559  PMID: 23614031
6.  Cost of Living Dictates what Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises Eat: The Importance of Prey Quality on Predator Foraging Strategies 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50096.
Understanding the mechanisms that drive prey selection is a major challenge in foraging ecology. Most studies of foraging strategies have focused on behavioural costs, and have generally failed to recognize that differences in the quality of prey may be as important to predators as the costs of acquisition. Here, we tested whether there is a relationship between the quality of diets (kJ·g−1) consumed by cetaceans in the North Atlantic and their metabolic costs of living as estimated by indicators of muscle performance (mitochondrial density, n = 60, and lipid content, n = 37). We found that the cost of living of 11 cetacean species is tightly coupled with the quality of prey they consume. This relationship between diet quality and cost of living appears to be independent of phylogeny and body size, and runs counter to predictions that stem from the well-known scaling relationships between mass and metabolic rates. Our finding suggests that the quality of prey rather than the sheer quantity of food is a major determinant of foraging strategies employed by predators to meet their specific energy requirements. This predator-specific dependence on food quality appears to reflect the evolution of ecological strategies at a species level, and has implications for risk assessment associated with the consequences of changing the quality and quantities of prey available to top predators in marine ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3503768  PMID: 23185542
7.  Assessing the Impact of Bycatch on Dolphin Populations: The Case of the Common Dolphin in the Eastern North Atlantic 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e32615.
Fisheries interactions have been implicated in the decline of many marine vertebrates worldwide. In the eastern North Atlantic, at least 1000 common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) are bycaught each year, particularly in pelagic pair-trawls. We have assessed the resulting impact of bycatch on this population using a demographic modeling approach. We relied on a sample of females stranded along the French Atlantic and western Channel coasts. Strandings represent an extensive source of demographic information to monitor our study population. Necropsy analysis provided an estimate of individual age and reproductive state. Then we estimated effective survivorship (including natural and human-induced mortality), age at first reproduction and pregnancy rates. Reproductive parameters were consistent with literature, but effective survivorship was unexpectedly low. Demographic parameters were then used as inputs in two models. A constant parameter matrix proposed an effective growth rate of −5.5±0.5%, corresponding to the current situation (including bycatch mortality). Subsequently, deterministic projections suggested that the population would be reduced to 20% of its current size in 30 years and would be extinct in 100 years. The demographic invariant model suggested a maximum growth rate of +4.5±0.09%, corresponding to the optimal demographic situation. Then, a risk analysis incorporating Potential Biological Removal (PBR), based on two plausible scenarii for stock structure suggested that bycatch level was unsustainable for the neritic population of the Bay of Biscay under a two-stock scenario. In depth assessment of stock structure and improved observer programs to provide scientifically robust bycatch estimates are needed. Effective conservation measures would be reducing bycatch to less than 50% of the current level in the neritic stock to reach PBR. Our approach provided indicators of the status and trajectory of the common dolphin population in the eastern North Atlantic and therefore proved to be a valuable tool for management, applicable to other dolphin populations.
PMCID: PMC3290591  PMID: 22393423
8.  Genetic and historic evidence for climate-driven population fragmentation in a top cetacean predator: the harbour porpoises in European water 
Recent climate change has triggered profound reorganization in northeast Atlantic ecosystems, with substantial impact on the distribution of marine assemblages from plankton to fishes. However, assessing the repercussions on apex marine predators remains a challenging issue, especially for pelagic species. In this study, we use Bayesian coalescent modelling of microsatellite variation to track the population demographic history of one of the smallest temperate cetaceans, the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in European waters. Combining genetic inferences with palaeo-oceanographic and historical records provides strong evidence that populations of harbour porpoises have responded markedly to the recent climate-driven reorganization in the eastern North Atlantic food web. This response includes the isolation of porpoises in Iberian waters from those further north only approximately 300 years ago with a predominant northward migration, contemporaneous with the warming trend underway since the ‘Little Ice Age’ period and with the ongoing retreat of cold-water fishes from the Bay of Biscay. The extinction or exodus of harbour porpoises from the Mediterranean Sea (leaving an isolated relict population in the Black Sea) has lacked a coherent explanation. The present results suggest that the fragmentation of harbour distribution range in the Mediterranean Sea was triggered during the warm ‘Mid-Holocene Optimum’ period (approx. 5000 years ago), by the end of the post-glacial nutrient-rich ‘Sapropel’ conditions that prevailed before that time.
PMCID: PMC2981983  PMID: 20444724
cetacean; climate change; habitat fragmentation; population genetics; coalescence
9.  Rise of oceanographic barriers in continuous populations of a cetacean: the genetic structure of harbour porpoises in Old World waters 
BMC Biology  2007;5:30.
Understanding the role of seascape in shaping genetic and demographic population structure is highly challenging for marine pelagic species such as cetaceans for which there is generally little evidence of what could effectively restrict their dispersal. In the present work, we applied a combination of recent individual-based landscape genetic approaches to investigate the population genetic structure of a highly mobile extensive range cetacean, the harbour porpoise in the eastern North Atlantic, with regards to oceanographic characteristics that could constrain its dispersal.
Analyses of 10 microsatellite loci for 752 individuals revealed that most of the sampled range in the eastern North Atlantic behaves as a 'continuous' population that widely extends over thousands of kilometres with significant isolation by distance (IBD). However, strong barriers to gene flow were detected in the south-eastern part of the range. These barriers coincided with profound changes in environmental characteristics and isolated, on a relatively small scale, porpoises from Iberian waters and on a larger scale porpoises from the Black Sea.
The presence of these barriers to gene flow that coincide with profound changes in oceanographic features, together with the spatial variation in IBD strength, provide for the first time strong evidence that physical processes have a major impact on the demographic and genetic structure of a cetacean. This genetic pattern further suggests habitat-related fragmentation of the porpoise range that is likely to intensify with predicted surface ocean warming.
PMCID: PMC1971045  PMID: 17651495

Results 1-9 (9)