Seabirds are highly mobile apex predators and range broadly across marine ecosystems, encountering and integrating a wide variety of oceanographic and environmental conditions.
They also require and use terrestrial environments where they are readily accessible on land-based breeding colonies.
There are almost 400 species of seabirds across the globe, breeding from tropical to polar regions. Many species and populations are threatened by anthropogenic pressures, primarily fisheries, pollution and climate change.
Seabirds are excellent models for researching changes in the marine environment, and I chose them to test trophic mechanisms in tropical marine systems, for a number of reasons:
Firstly, they are great taxa for sampling remote areas of the ocean, especially with the advent of modern, miniature electronic tracking devices that are suitable for deployment on many species.
Secondly, seabirds are global ocean sentinels, signalling climate driven changes to the marine environment because their position at the top of the food chain means they indicate variation that occurs at lower trophic levels and within the system.
Thirdly, their patchily distributed food resources may be easily and severely impacted in both the short and long term as they are susceptible, not only to human activities such as overfishing and pollution, but also environmental variation resulting from climate variation and global change.
Why the tropics?
While there have been a great deal of studies done on various taxa of the higher latitudes, tropical systems are under-researched and less is known of their interactions with the pelagic marine environment. For this reason I chose to conduct my PhD research in a tropical environment - the Great Barrier Reef/Coral Sea, which fortunately, plays host to many seabirds across multiple taxa.