All posts by Georgina

Research Proposal Example: Environmental and Anthropogenic Influences upon Western Australian Marine Fish Functional Diversity and Functional Groups

Background: Possibly the most pressing aspect of decreased biodiversity for the remaining life on earth is the potential alteration, impairment, or failure of ecosystem functioning. Ecosystem functioning refers to the total biogeochemical processes occurring within an ecosystem and is essentially, the cycling of nutrients, matter and energy. It has been hypothesized that the amount of relevant biotic traits in a community, or its functional diversity, is the most appropriate “tool” to be used when investigating ecosystem functioning, as this is the biological aspect that directly relates to the functioning of an ecosystem. One of the most commonly cited definitions of functional diversity is that of Tilman (2001) “…the values and range in the values, for the species present in an ecosystem, of those organismal traits that influence one or more aspects of the functioning of an ecosystem.” Therefore, the greater the number of species in a particular functional group, the greater the functional redundancy of the group (assuming the species within the group differ to some extent), be it an effect or response group. Functional diversity can also be used as a tool to estimate the ecological interactions occurring in an ecosystem, and the potential changes in these interactions due to changes in assemblage species composition.

Research Aims:

1) Functional traits- statistical significant functional groups of Western Australian fishes can be creates both a priori and post- hoc, based on relevant functional traits. This section includes in- depth methods and predicted outcomes

2) Changes in functional diversity within and among regions-  Functional diversity and functional groups of western Australian marine fishes will differ among regions with respect to environmental conditions and anthropogenic impacts. Also has in-depth methods and predicted outcomes.

3) Temporal variability in functional diversity- temporal variability in fish species biomass will not be observed at the functional group level; instead the relative biomass contributions of species to a functional group will fluctuate. Methods and Predicted outcomes.

4) The influence of fishing upon functional diversity- marine fish functional diversity and the relative biomass contribution of marine fishes to functional groups at the Abrolhos Islands will be altered with respect to fishing intensity.

5) Comparison of geographically isolated marine fish assemblages utilizing functional diversity- functional diversity and functional groups of marine fishes will not differ among geographically separated comparable ecosystems.

6) Predicting the effects of climate change upon fish assemblage through functional diversity- The poleward distribution change of species will be able to be predicted through the use of changes in functional response groups, and the potential regional change in ecosystem functioning approximated through the resulting changes in functional effect groups. Methods and Predicted Outcome and then references.

A Candidature Plan was formed and so was an outline of the budget. A description of fieldwork was presented and the supervisors as well.


Reference: Research Proposal for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Western Australia, 2009. Title: Environmental and Anthropogenic Influences upon Western Australian Marine Fish Functional Diversity and Functional Groups.




Review Article The Negative Impacts of Whale-Watching

In 2009, it was estimated that 13 million tourists took trips to observe whales, dolphins, and porpoises (cetaceans) in their natural habitats.  The whale watching industry is worth around $400 million and creates over 5,500 jobs. Whale watching is currently the greatest economic activity reliant upon cetaceans. Some of the fastest growing whale-watch industries are in developing countries such as China, Cambodia, Laos, Nicaragua and Panama. It has been argued that whale watching can provide benefits in conservation ethics and educational benefits as well. It is believed that the whale watching industry is positive for education there is also the issue of habituation and increase stress to the cetaceans in question.

This article is a review article from the Journal of Marine Biology. The topic of the articles is International Whale Watching. The questions from the article

Assessing the global threat of invasive species to marine biodiversity

Molnar, J., Gamboa, R. Revenga, C, and Spalding, M.D. 2008 Assessing the global threat of invasive species to marine biodiversity. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Vol 6, No. 9. pp. 485- 492.

It is widely accepted that invasive species are threatening to marine and terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity. The impacts of these species have not been quantitatively assessed on a global level. In this report, over 350 databases and other sources are used to synthesize information on 329 marine invasive species. This included distribution, impacts on biodiversity, and introduction pathways. International shipping as well as aquaculture are two of the major ways that invasive species are introduced into an ecosystem.

The topic of this study is marine invasive species worldwide. There are multiple research questions being asked. One of them is, how do we quantify geographic distribution and pathways of invasive species? What are the invasive species by ecoregion and how threatening are they to the region?

An ecoregion is an area of relatively homogeneous species composition, quite clearly distinct from adjacent systems. They used this unit of analysis because it is global in scale and useful for ecological guides.  The database development was done by collecting data from a variety of sources and compiling the information into a geographically referenced database. Detailed information was collected about the threats that each invasive species posed on the biodiversity using a scoring system. Each invasive species was assigned a score from the following categories: ecological impact, geographic extent, invasive potential, and management difficulty. This score was assigned globally for each species. The pathway analysis is based off of the US National Invasive Species Council’s Pathways Team. It allows documentation of all known and likely pathways for each species in the database. The creation of the database was by using expert knowledge and published works. From there the analysis was done through the database and many different statistical tests were able to be run and averages analyzed.

The database includes 329 marine invasive species in 194 ecoregions. The data shows high levels of invasion in Northern California in San Francisco (n= 85 species, 66% which are harmful). The most common pathway is shipping and transfer through ballast water. Using data collected in this assessment, global patterns can be identified in hopes to conserve and create policy effort to decrease the number of invasive species through out the world. It was found that there is under reporting of both microorganisms and low impact invasive species on the global scale.

Decline in Relative Abundance of Bottlenose Dolphins Exposed to Long-Term Disturbance

Detecting human impacts on wildlife and behavioral changes on marine mammals is time- sensitive, need sufficient resources, background information and investigations and analysis take time. Short-term behavior changes are caused primarily by disturbance. It is much more difficult to observe and analyze long-term behavioral disturbance and changes. In order to observe and analyze long term behavioral changes unconventional impact assessment research to identify disturbances and accurately inform wildlife management.

The topic of the article is long-term study of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). The research question is what are the long-term responses to dolphin-watching tourism? The data collection needed would be active field surveying. The field site is located in Shark Bay, Western Australia and so are approximately 2700 Bottlenose Dolphins. There are two types of dolphin tourisms in this bay. Since the 1960’s, dolphins have received fish handouts from humans and since 1993 commercial vessel based watching has occurred. The surveys gave GPS locations of individual dolphins and group location in correlation to landmarks. Tour vessels movements were tracked in 75 second intervals with GPS systems. The study was done over three consecutive 4.5 year periods. The calculations were made on actual locations and durations of all surveys and conducted during the study period.

Dolphin abundance is measured on individual identification of dolphins from photographic analyses. Statistical analysis was done by subdividing tourism and control sites into grid squares. Grid-square size was calculated as a smallest scale with acceptable error margin. Dolphin abundance was calculated per square per time period and a nonlinear logistic model was used. From the statistical tests it shows that dolphin watching has increased over the past few years and behavioral changes have increased.

LARS BEJDER,∗§§ AMY SAMUELS,† HAL WHITEHEAD,∗ NICK GALES,‡ JANET MANN,§RICHARD CONNOR,∗∗ MIKE HEITHAUS,†† JANA WATSON-CAPPS,§ CINDY FLAHERTY,‡‡∗∗∗AND MICHAEL KR¨UTZEN†††. Decline in Relative Abundance of Bottlenose Dolphins Exposed to Long-Term Disturbance. Conservation Biology. Volume 20. No. 6, 1791- 1798. 

Changes in Relative Occurrence of Cetaceans in the Southern California Bight: A Comparison of Recent Aerial Survey Results with Historical Data Sources

The Southern California Bight (SCB) is an interesting area of study due to the constant movement and migrations of marine mammals and especially cetaceans through these waters. The Southern California Bight is ecologically complex area that includes the Channel Islands and part of the Pacific Ocean. Cold water currents of the California Current flow south to meet the warmer waters of Southern California Countercurrent near Point Conception California. The SCB is characterized by warm and cold-water periods (May- October and November-April).

Systematic surveying marine mammals off of Southern California have been conducted since the mid-1970s. The data collected is useful because it offers abundance estimates of different species. The records of pre-1970s are mostly search and record information, which can still be beneficial for relative occurrence and abundance of marine mammals from 1950 to 1960s.

The research topic would be the changes in occurrence of Cetaceans over time. The research question (s) are what are the comparisons between literature reviews and 15 aerial surveys? What are the changes being seen between the search and record information from the 50s and 60s compared to the information from systematic surveys? The type of data used in this research was survey with annual information, meaning that the data is aggregate, interval or ratio data.

From the literature available, species rankings were collected and relative frequency of sightings from at-sea studies from 1950s to 2012 were analyzed. The results from 2008-2012 systematic aerial surveys were compared to eight other studies that best represented the relative occurrence of (SCB) cetaceans for specific time periods. Summaries of relative species rankings were places into tables. 16 species were observed during the most recent set of surveys. Multiple factors are discussed that would influence or bias the rankings, geographical location of the survey relative to species habitat, survey season relative to migration patterns, weather and sightability, observation platform, and historical species identification issues.

Overall, the articles was insightful is showing the ebbs and flows of relative occurrence of species throughout the Southern California Bight. What was not very clear was the movement from the literature to the species ranking. The process of creating these tables was not completely clear, other than that the abundance and sightings of different years has to do with the ranking and were different species are on the list. All information that was translated into the ranking list came from the systematic surveys and the other surveys from the 50s and 60s.

Smultea, M. and Jefferson, T. 2014. Changes in Relative Occurrence of Cetaceans in the Southern California Bight: A Comparison of Recent Aerial Survey Results with Historical Data Sources. Aquatic Mammals vol. 40 (1), 32-43. 

Marine Mammals as Sentinel Species for Oceans and Human Health

Bossart, G.D. 2006. Marine Mammals as Sentinel Species for Oceans and Human Health. Oceanography, Volume 19, Number 2, a quarterly journal of The Oceanography Society.

This article discusses the importance of marine mammals as a sentinel for human health and ocean health. Marine mammals are beneficial at helping to identify changes in the environment due to long life spans, feed at high trophic level, and extensive fat storage that help with anthropogenic toxin analysis. Marine mammals are also beneficial in the way that humans find that they can connect with them due to their charisma. The relationship between threats to marine mammals and consumption, population growth and behavioral patterns of humans are directly correlated.

The research question that is being asked is what are the diseases and threats that marine mammal sentinel’s are warning us about? In this paper they discuss the sentinel species as being the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), West Indian Manatee(Trichechus manatus latirpstris), California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus), and the Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris nereis).

Some of the different kinds of human health threats that have been determined by analyzing marine mammal biopsies and blood samples are infectious diseases, pollutants and harmful algal blooms.

California Sea Lions that have been founded stranded have had necropsies done and found that around 20% have urogenital cancer which is caused by herpes virus and contaminants due to PCBs and DDTs. The occurrence of these contaminants is unnerving due to the fact that Sea Lions feed and live in highly human populated areas up and down the coast. An analysis was done on a population of Sea Otter’s and found that 38% on the California coast have toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. These protozoans can survive and life in foods that are not only eaten by Sea Otters but by humans as well. Heavy metal pollution can be analyzed in the fatty tissues of animals such as Polar bears, Bowhead Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins. Pathologic analysis was conducted on Dolphins and manatees and was found that the emergence and resurgence of diseases can be caused by environmental distress.

Harmful Algal Blooms have been observed to significantly impact high numbers of sea lions, manatees and dolphins. There are numerous types of toxins that cause the poisoning of shellfish, which in turn are eaten by marine mammals and then are found washed up and beached due to neurotoxins.

Statistical analysis was not used in this article because genetic testing was primarily used also because it was a case study and not an overall scientific article.

Surfacing characteristics and diving behaviour of Blue Whales in Sri Lankan waters

—Asha de Vos, Fredrik Christiansen, Robert G. Harcourt, Charitha B. Pattiaratchi. 2013. Surfacing characteristics and diving behaviour of blue whales in Sri Lankan waters. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 449. 149- 153.


Asha de Vos. et al. collected surfacing and diving behaviors of a small population of Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus) that have been found to be genetically different from the Blue Whales found in the Atlantic ocean. The whales that are located in near the tip of Sri Lanka have a different vocals and also considered to be Dwarf Blue Whales, meaning that they are only about 4 meters shorted than Blue Whales found in the Atlantic. The primary question that was being asked was to quantify diving and surfacing characteristics of an isolated population of whales.

In order to answer the research question the team has both land focal follows for the whales as well as a small boat that would travel along side the whale to monitor and collect respiration data and diving patterns. The time at first surfacing, length of surface time, number of blows, and the time at final dive would all be written down in order to quantify the information. There were also different definitions for the ways in which the whale would fluke or if it would fluke at all.

The respiration data were separated into two categories, shorter surface dives and longer deep dive. The data was analyzed using a goodness of fit test and a chi squared test for r. The Monte Carlo method was also used to analyze the different probabilities of surfacing patterns. A Markov chain was also used to help analyze the data and found that there was a significant difference between the theoretical patterns and the Markov chain (p<0.0001). Surface to surface dive were much more common than surface to deep and it was noted that there was never a deep to deep dive. 55% of the deep dive had a fluke, 42% high arch and 3% lazy fluke. There was no significants between fluking and the absence or presence of whale watching boats (p> 0.05).

The overall information that was received from this article was that there is not a significant behavioral difference between the Blue Whale population in Sri Lanka and the one in the Atlantic Ocean. However, if you want to see a fluking Blue Whale you have a better chance in Sri Lanka.


Potential vessel collisions with Southern Hemisphere humpback whales wintering off Pacific Panama

Guzman, H. Gomez, C. Guevara, C. Kleivane, L. Potential vessel collisions with Southern Hemisphere humpback whales wintering off Pacific Panama. Marine Mammal Science. Volume 29, Issue 4 629- 642, October 2013.

Vessel and Whale collisions are a common occurrence throughout the world’s oceans. There are many reports of baleen whales being hit or struck by vessels. This has increased more and more due to globalization as well as the immense amount of shipping that happens in all oceans. In Central America, both the northern and the southern hemisphere Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate to the Pacific Panama, warm waters for the winter to mate.

This study was to evaluate the potential for collisions between vessels and humpback whales wintering off Pacific Panama by following movements of 15 individual whales using tagging with satellite transmitters and comparing the data to commercial vessel track data using the global Automatic Identification System (AIS). The type of data needed to answer this question was individual tracks of whales and vessels in the same region. Real time satellite transmitters and tags were used. The tags were speared into the area 2-5inches away from the back of the dorsal fin. The AIS data that was used provided ship to ship and ship to shore information including name and type of vessel, position, hour, dimensions, speed, heading etc.

Data processing and analysis was primarily taking the AIS data and using ArcGIS 10.0 to display the interactions of whales and vessels by defining time or day. Whale transmissions were processed using Satellite Tracking and Analysis Tool (STAT), which helped filter and edit locations and organize data into different categories of interest (bathymetry, transmission quality, speed and distances).

The use of tagging on animals is always a tricky one because in order to place a tag there is much human disturbance and a concern that the tagging itself will harm the individual whale. However, the information that is able to be collected is so important to the understanding of whales and the way that they live their lives. The use of a tag for spatial data is a fantastic idea and so is using the AIS system that is already in place and collecting all that data anyways. I think that the data collection processes were sufficient and it is always fun to see ArcGIS being used in a paper and Redlands being cited. The overlaying of the tracks of the vessels and the whales by time is very useful and would help give a great picture about the importance of reduced speeds and increased awareness that is needed in these waters all the time but especially in breeding season.

Spatial and Social connectivity of fish- eating “Resident” killer whales in the northern North Pacific

In Holly Fearnbach et al.’s article “Spatial and social connectivity of fish- eating “Resident” killer whales (Orincus orca) in the Northern North Pacific” published in Marine Biology Journal; February 2014, Vol. 161 Issue 2, p. 459- 472. The article’s topic covers the distribution of “Resident” Orca whales in the Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. This area of the world has some of the most productive long line fishing and ground fish fisheries as well as a large number of resident and transient Orcas that migrate through. The relationship between the fishing industry and the increase population of resident Orcas in this Gulf had not been studied before until this long-term data analysis.

The question that was being asked was where are individual and pods of Resident Orcas being seen in the Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea and what is the behavioral and social makeup of the group? Seasonal boat observations and photo identification collected for 10 years of spatial movements of orcas helped to create the Bayesian analysis that was performed on pair-wise associations and cluster identification.  Over 3,058 Orca photo- identifications were taken from 331 encounters, which ended up identifying 532 individuals. Due to this article and the question being based off of field research and on marine mammals not on humans, yes expert knowledge was used but so was just hands on field data collection.

This research has an interesting aspect to it in that it is long-term data collection in order to create behavioral family analysis and the Bayesian analysis. The use of the Bayesian statistics was possible due to the large amount of data and due to the degrees of belief that were involved in the knowledge of individual Orcas social encounters. Understanding the clusters and spatial movements of the Orcas could benefit the distribution and possible need to move fishing boats and lines away from migratory patterns of the Orcas. My evaluation is that this knowledge is crucial to limiting the unnecessary human interactions between fisherman and Orcas. This limitation is important in order to ensure Orca safety and decrease entanglement, which is bad for fisherman and the whales.