At the Expert Group of Birds and Marine Mammals Meeting held on July 13th, in Portland, Oregon, several topics were brought up and discussed by the core members including changes to the current EGBAMM website and updates on the Antarctic Biodiversity Information Facility (ANTABIF), the southern ocean predator tracking database, and the Antarctic predator reference list. EGBAMM's interactions with SCAR were discussed and the group was pleased that they had two full days of sessions devoted to Birds and Marine Mammals at the Open Science Conference this year. These sessions are a great way to showcase the work that members of EGBAMM are doing throughout Antarctica. The group also expressed interest in being more visible (particularly within SCAR) and having more aspects of outreach. They will be creating a list-serve within APECS soon to involve to the up-and-coming Antarctic predator experts in the work of the group and had several ideas of ways to get APCES members involved (more below). Details on this list-serve will be coming soon.
Dr. Bruno Danis, a core member of the group, discussed the benefits and progress of the Antarctica Biodiversity Information Facility (ANTABIF), which is a free and open access website for Antarctic biodiversity data (www.biodiversity.aq) for science, conservation, and management purposes. The focus of this website is on the taxonomy and biogeopraphy of Antarctic species and currently 17098 taxa and 2.5 million bio-geographic records are included in the database dating back to 1900. Within this website, users can standardize their own data sets, upload them (including uploading metadata), visualize them on a map, and publish them. The group also discussed the potential of uploading best practices for different methods within ANTABIF, such as tracking, which could be uploaded and published with a doi in the database. Researchers using these standardized methods could then just cite that particular doi in their papers when such methods are applicable.
At the meeting, the discussion of what to do with Antarctic animals that strand outside of Antarctica was brought up as this is becoming a more frequent issue in several countries (e.g., Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa) and the public is starting to ask questions such as "what are we supposed to do if we get a stranded animal?" A formal recommendation could not be found on SCAR's website so the public is not sure what SCAR or EGBAMM's position is (i.e., do we rehabilitate and re-release the animal where it stranded, take them back to Antarctica, keep them in captivity, etc.)? The group decided that they need to ask SCAR what the current recommendation is and pass EGBAMMs recommendation (rehabilitate and re-release the animal where it stranded) on to the delegates of the Standing Scientific Group of the Life Sciences. The final recommendation then should be made very clear and easy to find with the SCAR database. With climate change, this issue is likely to continue to increase in frequency and thus needs to be addressed now.
The pros and cons of satellite monitoring of penguin colonies was presented by core member Dr. Hans Zurich and were discussed by the group. Dr. Zurich presented results of rock penguin colonies being detected using several types of satellite data (e.g., remote sensing data). Current limitations include snow covering breeding places, images obtained from the early or late breeding season that do not have enough guano for detection, and the quality of images sometimes making it impossible to detect individual penguins and changes in occupied nests. Still, Dr. Zurich stressed how this method allows large changes in penguin distributions to be observed more quickly and cost efficiently than traditional methods (e.g., field counts) and thus has enormous scientific potential. A request was made by Dr. Zurich for support from EGBAMM for moving this technique forward as a regular monitoring tool. They have already published this work (Fretwell et al. 2012) and similar work has been done with Weddell seals (LaRue et al. 2011). The long term goal of this project is monitoring but participants still need to work on refining the methods. The group discussed that it would be good to create a working group or steering group for future satellite monitoring. Also, it was discussed how EGBAMM's main contribution could be by providing counts of animals for ground-truthing the sensing data, thus making it more reliable and accurate.
Dr. Mark Hindell, the current president of the group, updated the group on the status of a predator tracking database for the southern ocean that synthesizes all types of tracking data collected from predators in the Antarctic (e.g., satellite tags, time depth recorders). Currently, the Australian data sets are the only datasets included in the database as the Australian Antarctic Division has been the primary agency working on this and they have lots of tracking data (and they needed to create a proof a concept before moving forward). At the moment, more than one million locations from more than 20 species have been incorporated into the database. Dr. Hindell demonstrated how a habitat selectivity index could be obtained for specific predator species within the database based on a random walk model. He also demonstrated how they are working on incorporating the use of environmental predictors into the model to obtain predictive maps of species distributions. The initial results of the database look very promising but the model could still use some tweaking. The current limitation in finishing the database is manpower as pre-processing the data is very time-consuming. The group discussed the potential of creating post-doctoral opportunities to synthesize all of the data (someone who is solely devoted to working on the database). In the meantime, the group decided that volunteers from the group could synthesize tracking data for a few species (specifically those with lots of tracking data and global circumpolar influence); several members at the meeting volunteered to complete this for approximately twelve species. Ideally, the synthesis would be published and available to anyone through an online portal. Data would be shown in an integrative way so that individuals could still publish their own data and no one would be forced to contribute data that they don't want to.