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Population trends and distribution of Common Murre Uria aalge colonies in Washington, 1996-2015



1USFWS, Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 715 Holgerson Rd, Sequim, WA 98382, USA (Sue_Thomas@fws.gov)
2USGS, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 12100 Beech Forest Road, Laurel, MD 20708, USA

Received 24 August 2016, accepted 8 March 2017

Date Pubished: 2017/04/15
Date Online: 2017/04/02

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THOMAS, S.M. & LYONS, J.E. 2017. Population trends and distribution of Common Murre Uria aalge colonies in Washington, 1996-2015. Marine Ornithology 45: 95-102.

Key words: Common Murre, Washington, trends, distribution, Poisson regression


Periodic assessments of population trends and changes in spatial distribution are valuable for managing marine birds and their breeding habitats, particularly when evaluating long-term response to threats such as oil spills, predation pressure, and changing ocean conditions. We evaluated recent trends in abundance and distribution of the Common Murre Uria aalge within Copalis, Quillayute Needles, and Flattery Rocks National Wildlife Refuges, which include all murre colonies in Washington except one, off-refuge, on Tatoosh Island. In 1996-2001 and 2010-2015, aerial photographic surveys were conducted during the incubation phase (mid-June through mid-July) each year. Using images from film (1996-2001) and digital (2010-2015) cameras that included all parts of each colony, we manually counted murres. We estimated population trend as annual percent change in whole-colony counts using an overdispersed Poisson regression model. Overall, numbers of murres counted at breeding colonies in Washington increased by 8.8% per year (95% CI 3.0%-14.9%) during 1996-2015. The overall statewide increase was driven by an increase at colonies in northern Washington of approximately 11% per year (95% CI 4.5%-17.8%). Despite an increasing trend, abundance remains lower than levels in the late 1970s, and the spatial distribution has changed. Colonies in southern Washington -- where murres were historically the most abundant -- are no longer active, or only minimally so, whereas colonies in the north -- which were rarely active in the early 1970s -- are now the largest. There was high variability in spatial distribution among years, a pattern that indicates a need for coordinated monitoring and movement studies throughout the California Current System to understand dispersal and colonization. Our results indicate that future management of refuge islands could protect both current and historic colony locations, given the patterns of colony dynamics and the uncertainty about long-term effects of a changing ocean ecosystem and predation pressure on the status of murres.


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