Understanding the Variation in Habitat Requirements is Important in assessing the resilience of species to climate change

Prof Daniel Costa1, Dr. Louis Hucksadt1, Sarah Kienle1, Rachael Holser1

1University Of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, United States


Our understanding of species habitat utilization patterns is often limited to specific regions where we have limited data on species movement patterns. This is particularly problematic in cases when animal tracks are obtained from a single colony or a section of the species range, hindering our ability to fully understand the within-species variability in patterns of species habitat utilization from such limited information. Here, we examine the pitfalls of this approach using a suite of large tracking data sets collected over the entire species range for four pinniped species: northern and southern elephant seals, crabeater seals, and Weddell seals. We found that species that have very restricted diets, like crabeater seals, present the least amount of variability in their patterns of habitat utilization, whereas species like elephant seals and Weddell seals, with generalist diets, exhibit large individual and site-specific plasticity over a larger range of habitats. Our study highlights how variable the movement patterns of animals are within a species and highlights the importance of broad comparative studies of patterns of habitat utilization from across their species entire geographic range.


Daniel Costa is a Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  He completed a B.A. at UCLA, a Ph.D. at U.C. Santa Cruz and a post doc at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. His research focuses on the ecology and physiology of marine mammals and seabirds, taking him to every continent and almost every habitat from the Galapagos to Antarctica. He has worked with a broad range of animals including turtles, penguins’ albatross, seals, sea lions, sirenians, whales and dolphins and has published over 500 scientific papers. His current work is aimed at recording the movement and distribution patterns of marine mammals and seabirds in an effort to understand their habitat needs. This work is helping to identify biodiversity hotspots and the factors that create them.  He has been developing tools to identify and create viable Marine Protected Areas for the conservation of highly migratory species. In addition his research is studying the response of marine mammals to underwater sounds and developing ways to assess whether the potential disturbance may result in a population consequence. With Barbara Block he co-founded the Tagging of Pacific Predators program, a multidisciplinary effort to study the movement patterns of 23 species of marine vertebrate predators in the North Pacific Ocean. He is an internationally recognized authority on tracking of marine mammals and birds.

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