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An estimate of population sizes of burrowing seabirds at the Diego Ramirez Archipelago, Chile, using distance sampling and burrow-scoping
Abstract and Figures
The Diego Ramirez Islands lie 60 nautical miles southwest of Cape Horn and are the breeding site for three species of burrowing seabirds: blue petrels (Halobaena caerulea), common diving petrels (Pelecanoides urinatrix) and sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus). Burrowing seabirds are highly vulnerable to predation by introduced vertebrate pests, and Diego Ramirez is an important breeding site because it is one of a few remaining subantarctic island groups with no introduced predators. Diego Ramirez is the only known breeding site for blue petrels in the southeast Pacific region, holding about 80% of the global population of that species, and with a population ten times larger than any other population in the world. We estimated the population size in 2002, using a novel application of the distance sampling technique to determine burrow density, and a burrow-scope with excavations to determine occupying species. We found that density was correlated with slope angle and soil wetness. Burrow densities in flatter terrain with drier soils were 2.03 burrows/m2 (95% confidence intervals: 1.82–2.27) and 1.11 burrows/m2 (0.84–1.48) in steeper terrain with wetter soils. The occupation rate of burrows were significantly different between habitat types (t=2.74, d.f. 11, P<0.05); in flatter drier habitats the proportion of burrows that led to a nest was 0.85 (0.74–0.96), in steeper wetter habitats this decreased to 0.64 (0.50–0.78). We used a digital elevation model to calculate true area rather than planar area for the two habitat types on the main island of Bartolome, and charts to calculate planar area for the remainder of the archipelago. There were 1.35 (1.15–1.54) million pairs of blue petrels and 99,000 (65,000–134,000) pairs of common diving petrels on the archipelago. These are similar figures to those from the only previous estimate, made in 1980. We found breeding sooty shearwaters for the first time, and estimated a population of several thousand pairs. We emphasise the facility of distance sampling as an unbiased technique with practical advantages over commonly used area search methods for monitoring populations of burrowing seabirds. These advantages include increased survey efficiency allowing a larger sample size for a given effort and a correspondingly tighter estimation of density.
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