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Title: Examining potential effects of marine renewable energy developments on top predators
Author: Philpott, Evelyn
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis uses data collected over three summers in 2010, 2011 and 2012 at the Isle of May National Nature Reserve, Scotland to examine top predator presence and behaviour in a moderately fast tidal stream site. Fieldwork consisted of an intensive land based observation survey of seabirds at sea, acoustic monitoring of small cetaceans and the deployment of a suite of oceanographical tools to simultaneously collect data on a fine temporal scale over a study area of ~1.5km2. The aim of the study was to examine the potential effects of marine renewable energy developments on top predator behaviour in a tidal stream site by addressing some of the key data gaps such as habitat use in tidal stream areas, dive behaviour and collision and disturbance risk assessment. Acoustic detections of harbour porpoises were investigated as a function of physical environmental variables. Strong links between porpoise presence and increased thermal stratification and chlorophyll levels were detected along with a very strong diurnal pattern with increased detections at night. There was no relationship with tidal state. The habitat use of five species of breeding birds at sea adjacent to breeding cliffs was examined to gauge what environmental factors drive habitat use at these sites. Counts of foraging kittiwakes were examined in relation to environmental variables and while strong temporal trends emerged there was no link with oceanographic features. The study site was predominately used for loafing (non foraging behaviour) and so species specific temporal variation in loafing behaviour was analysed. Strong seasonal and diurnal trends in loafing emerged for all species which could be linked to differences in their breeding phenology. These results can be used in assessing and mitigating disturbance to these birds from marine renewables developments. Age specific variation in dive behaviour in the European shag was examined to determine whether newly fledged juveniles were at a greater risk of collision with tidal turbines than adults. Juveniles initially demonstrated a shorter dive duration than adults but after 4-6 weeks their dive duration had significantly increased. However age specific difference in dive behaviour in relation to water depth iii remained unchanged over time with juveniles showing no relationship between dive duration and water depth while adults increased dive duration in deeper water. The implications of this result for assessing age specific collision risk for this species is discussed. Results from this study were used to populate a framework for assessing collision and disturbance risk to seabirds in the near shore area adjacent to the breeding colony from a small scale tidal turbine development scenario. A method was developed to quantify risk by combining relative abundance data, behavioural data and published data on activity budgets for four species; guillemots, razorbills, puffins and shags. The output from this thesis has practical applications for informing the temporal and spatial scale of data collection and survey design in environmental impact assessments regarding marine renewable energy developments with emphasis on understanding the mechanistic links driving predator behaviour. Results can also be used to design appropriate mitigation procedures to prevent disturbance to loafing or foraging birds.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Scottish National Heritage
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Renewable natural resources ; Predatory marine animals