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Meta-population feeding grounds of Cory's shearwater in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean: implications for the definition of Marine Protected Areas based on tracking studies


Correspondence: Raül Ramos, Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CNRS-UMR 5175), 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier, France.




Apical pelagic species forage in predictable habitats, and their movements should signal biologically and ecologically significant areas of the marine ecosystem. Several countries are now engaged in identifying these areas based on animal tracking, but this is often limited to a few individuals from one breeding population, which may result in biased portrayals of the key marine habitats. To help identify such foraging areas, we compiled tracking data of a marine top predator from the main breeding colonies in the Central Macaronesia.


North-east Atlantic Ocean.


Over seven years, we tracked the foraging movements of Cory's shearwaters (Calonectris borealis) from several populations during the chick-rearing period using global positioning system and platform terminal transmitter devices.


We obtained foraging trips from 174 shearwaters breeding on six important colonies representative of the range occupied in the Macaronesian Archipelagos of Madeira, Salvages and Canaries. Our results show that birds orient and move rapidly towards the closest neritic waters over the African continental shelf. Birds from different colonies show substantial spatial segregation in their foraging grounds but consistently overlap in some specific foraging areas along the Canary Current characterized by high productivity. By weighting the use of foraging grounds according to the size of each study population, we inferred the overall exploitation of such areas.

Main conclusions

Our meta-population approach provides a more comprehensive picture of space use from both perspectives: the studied species and the Canary Current system. Foraging grounds consistently used by several populations may not be adequately identified by tracking a single population, and therefore, multiple population tracking studies are needed to properly delineate key conservation areas and inform conservation planning in the marine ecosystem. Finally, we highlight the long-term stability and sustainability of identified foraging areas and propose that countries with geographical jurisdictions over the Canary Current area should work towards multilateral agreements to set management plans for this key marine ecosystem.