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Regional breeding bird assessment of the Antarctic Peninsula


Conservation of seabirds in remote polar regions requires accurate information on the location of breeding sites, which is often limited by logistical constraints of surveying large areas. On the Antarctic Peninsula, many seabird colonies are visited briefly but regularly by commercial cruise vessels, a platform from which we were able to collect presence/absence data on the entire community of seabirds. We used a multistate occupancy model, accounting for limited detection during surveys, to estimate the probability of presence and breeding of all 16 species native to the area. Our results provide a much clearer view than that was previously available of how avian diversity is distributed across the region’s network of multi-species colonies and reveals species-specific differences in the effect of sea-ice concentration and site fidelity on breeding probability. Several breeding sites host an unusually large number of breeding species, but these known richness hotspots are scattered throughout the region and we were unable to identify any clear gradients in species richness that might explain why some sites are so species rich. While accounting for detection failure accelerates the pace of reliable inference on species occupancy, we find that as many as ten years of repeated visits are often required to fully catalog the seabird richness at bare rock sites along the Antarctic Peninsula. This work highlights the challenges of identifying high priority sites for special protection or management and the importance for continued surveys, even at nominally well-studied locations.

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We thank R. Naveen and all of the Antarctic Site Inventory field staff for data collection. B. Şen, L. Prowant, C. Foley, M. Lynch, and C. Youngflesh were helpful in interpretation of the results, and C. Graham, D. Futuyma, and R. Veit provided feedback on early versions of the manuscript. We also appreciate the very helpful comments by the anonymous reviewers.


Financial support was provided by the National Science Foundation/Office of Polar Programs, award no. 1255058, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, award no. NNX14AC32G. Additional logistical support was provided by a number of member organizations of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, chiefly One Ocean Expeditions.

Author information

MBS and HJL conceived the project; MBS analyzed most of the model results with guidance from CCC and HJL; all authors contributed to the design of the occupancy model and to the written manuscript.

Correspondence to Michael B. Schrimpf.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

Fieldwork was permitted through the National Science Foundation as per the Antarctic Conservation Act (most recent permit: ACA 2019-001). Observation of birds was approved by the Stony Brook University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (2011-1881-R2-6.19.20-BI).

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Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file 1 Additional details about the posterior predictive check procedure and results (PDF 2857 kb)

Supplementary file 2 Additional parameter posterior distributions (PDF 108 kb)

Supplementary file 3 Additional details regarding the effect of removing the site-fidelity term from the model (PDF 112 kb)

Supplementary file 4 Maps of breeding probability of all species at all investigated sites (PDF 1494 kb)

Supplementary file 5 Site metadata and breeding probabilities of all species in table form. Note that both the results of the combined “any skua” model (AnySkua) and the summed state of total skuas (TotSkua) are also included (CSV 34 kb)

Supplementary file 6 Additional details about the downsampling procedure to further investigate the results of the Chao2 estimated species richness. In addition, source code and full model results are available at GitHub, via the following URL: (PDF 149 kb)

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Schrimpf, M.B., Che-Castaldo, C. & Lynch, H.J. Regional breeding bird assessment of the Antarctic Peninsula. Polar Biol 43, 111–122 (2020).

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  • Occupancy
  • Species distributions
  • Important bird areas
  • Antarctic specially protected areas