Dr Cormac Booth is presenting at the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromso, on Friday 23rd January 2015.

His presentation is entitled: Forecasting winners and losers of the Arctic environment: the potential Population Consequences of Disturbance (PCoD) for marine mammals.

Cormac Booth 1, John Harwood1 ,3, Stephanie King2, Rob Schick2, Carl Donovan2
1SMRU Marine, St Andrews, UK, 2Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling, St Andrews, UK, 3Sea Mammal Research Unit, St Andrews, UK

As the Earth’s population grows, there is an increased demand for energy. The potential for both fossil fuels and green energy sources in the Arctic are great. With increased development, comes the need for impact assessment at project and strategic levels to determine the most sustainable path ahead. In the UK, the expansion of marine development has led to an increase in underwater noise that may injure some marine mammals and may cause behavioural disturbance to many more (e.g. explosive use, pile-driving, geophysical surveys etc.). There are, however, inherent difficulties in observing marine mammal responses to disturbance and understanding the levels at which these occur. It is widely acknowledged that short-term behavioural responses may become biologically significant if animals are exposed for sustained periods of time, but the interpretation of the biological consequences of disturbance is limited by uncertainty about what constitutes a meaningful response, both at the individual and the population level. Unfortunately data on the effects of disturbance on an animal’s survival or ability to breed, are unavailable for most marine mammal species and there is no standardised framework for assessing the consequences of these effects at a population level in these circumstances.

To address this problem, we have developed a generalised Population Consequences of Disturbance (PCoD) model (first proposed by a US Office of Naval Research working group), which uses stochastic population models to assess the long-term trajectory of both undisturbed and ‘disturbed’ (i.e. those exposed to a change in their environment – e.g. increased noise) populations the determine the population level impacts of disturbance. In the absence of empirical data to inform the link between disturbance and vital rates, we elicited expert opinion to provide provisional data for these high priority questions. Our approach allows the daily effects of disturbance to be scaled up to cover the entire duration of a development, and the cumulative effects of multiple developments on populations can be evaluated. This tool is primarily focused on the impacts of noise disturbance, but the generalised framework has broad applications across geographic regions and industries. We cannot fully understand the population consequence of disturbance for marine mammals without more reliable, quantitative and evidence-based data. The interim PCoD framework therefore can be used to identify key sensitivities and knowledge gaps to be filled and crucially the data that need to be collected, thus prioritising future research.

The presentation can be viewed HERE.