Understanding abundance patterns of a declining seabird: Implications for monitoring

Michelle L. Kissling, Mason Reid, Paul M. Lukacs, Scott M. Gende, Stephen B. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The Kittlitz's Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris) is a rare, non-colonial seabird often associated with tidewater glaciers and a recent candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. We estimated abundance of Kittlitz's Murrelets across space and time from at-sea surveys along the coast of Alaska (USA) and then used these data to develop spatial models to describe abundance patterns and identify environmental factors affecting abundance. Over a five-week period in the summer of 2005, we recorded 794 Kittlitz's Murrelets, 16 Marbled Murrelets (B. marmoratus), and 70 unidentified murrelets. The overall population estimate (N, mean ± SE) during the peak period (3-9 July) was 1317 ± 294 birds, decreasing to 68 ± 37 by the last survey period (31 July-6 August). Density of Kittlitz's Murrelets was highest in pelagic waters of Taan Fjord (18.6 ± 7.8 birds/km2, mean ± SE) during 10-16 July. Spatial models identified consistent "hotspots" of Kittlitz's Murrelets, including several small areas where high densities of murrelets were found throughout the survey period. Of the explanatory variables that we evaluated, tidal current strength influenced murrelet abundance most consistently, with higher abundance associated with strong tidal currents. Simulations based on the empirically derived estimates of variation demonstrated that spatial variation strongly influenced power to detect trend, although power changed little across the threefold difference in the coefficient of variation on detection probability. We include recommendations for monitoring Kittlitz's Murrelets (or other marine species) when there is a high degree of uncertainty about factors affecting abundance, especially spatial variability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2164-2174
Number of pages11
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2007


  • Abundance patterns
  • Brachyramphus brevirostris
  • Detection probability
  • Endangered species
  • Environmental factors
  • Icy Bay, Alaska, USA
  • Kittlitz's Murrelet
  • Seabird monitoring
  • Spatial modeling
  • Tidal current


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