Martin Beal

I am a Swedish-American nature-enthusiast with an educational background in Animal Ecology. I grew up in the United States, where I spent much of my time playing sports, learning the birds and exploring the vast diversity of North America’s natural places. I also spent time in Brazil in the Atlantic Rainforest region as both an exchange student and a conservation volunteer. In keeping with my roots, I have most recently lived in Sweden, where I completed a masters in Animal Ecology in 2018, during which I studied the breeding season foraging movements of Caspian Terns in the Baltic Sea. My current research continues in the theme of analyzing remote tracking data (e.g. GPS) in the interest of bettering out understanding of animal space use. In particular, my focus is on using spatial analyses of seabird movements to improve schemes for protecting seabirds at important sites out at sea (e.g. IBA network).

PhD project: Identifying Marine Key Biodiversity Areas using tracking data

Animal tracking data have proved to be a fundamental tool in marine conservation (Burger & Shaffer 2008). Along with at sea-surveys, tracking studies are the most important source of data to map the at-sea range of many pelagic species such as seabirds and marine mammals, an essential layer of information in Marine Spatial Planning exercises, or when identifying potential Marine Protected Areas (Lascelles et al.  2016; Dias et al. 2017; Wakefield et al. 2017).

However, analysing data collected from individual animals, and scaling that up to the population level, is a challenging exercise (e.g. Gutowsky et al. 2015). For example, seabirds from the same colony can choose distinctive sites to forage (between-individuals flexibility; e.g. Patrick et al. 2013), and even different individuals within a population can vary in the degree of faithfulness to their foraging sites (within-individuals flexibility; Dias et al. 2011, Wakefield et al. 2015). Recent evidence points to an extreme variability among species in this “flexible-consistent” axis of their foraging behaviour (Weimerskirch 2007, Wakefield et al. 2015). To understand this in practical conservation terms, we need to assess the consistency in site use at the population level, in multiple years and during different stages of the breeding cycle (e.g. Robertson et al. 2014), in order to evaluate whether site-based conservation efforts (that traditionally assume sites have static boundaries) are effectively covering the distribution of these species in the long term.

The project will use data from the Seabird Tracking Database, a major repository of data on marine birds currently covering more than 20.000 tracks, from >110 species at 250 breeding colonies. It will investigate the effectiveness of the current network of high priority sites in conserving seabirds given the highly dynamic nature of marine systems, and the will also derive recommendations for improving methods for identifying marine KBAs using tracking data.

The Seabird Tracking Database (BirdLife International;

The specific objectives of the project are:

  1. Investigating the effectiveness of the current network of important sites for marine biodiversity – Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) – in conserving seabirds given the highly dynamic nature of marine systems.
  2. Testing whether particular indicator (umbrella) species can represent the conservation needs of other (less studied) species.
  3. Providing recommendations for the identification and designation of networks of marine PAs and KBAs that are robust to ecosystem dynamics.

The expected results of this project are 1) a protocol defining data requirements to delineate marine KBA boundaries that are robust to intra- and inter-seasonal dynamics, and 2) identifying which seabirds are most effective umbrella species for MPA designation.

These results will be used to inform conservation action under several conventions and agreements, such as those in the UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme (e.g. OSPAR, Barcelona and Abidjan Conventions), the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. It will also inform action towards Target 4 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

Related references

  • Burger, A. & Shaffer, S.A. 2008. Application of Tracking and Data-Logging Technology in Research and Conservation of Seabirds. The Auk 125: 253-264.
  • Dias, M.P., Oppel, S., Bond, A.L., Carneiro, A.P.B., Cuthbert, R.J., et al. 2017. Using globally threatened pelagic birds to identify priority sites for marine conservation in the South Atlantic Ocean, Biological Conservation 211: 76-84.
  • Dias, M.P, Granadeiro, J.P., Phillips, R.A., Alonso, H. & Catry, P. 2011. Breaking the routine: individual Cory’s shearwaters shift winter destinations between hemispheres and across ocean basins. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 278: 1786-1793.
  • Gutowsky, S.E., Leonard, M.L., Conners, M.G., Shaffer, S.A. & Jonsen, I.D. 2015. Individual-level variation and higher-level interpretations of space use in wide-ranging species: an albatross case study of sampling effects. Frontiers in Marine Science 2:93.
  • Lascelles, B.G, Taylor, P., Miller, M., Dias, M.P., Oppel, S. et al. 2016. Applying global criteria to tracking data to define important areas for marine conservation. Diversity & Distributions 22: 422-431.
  • Patrick, S.C., Bearhop, S., Grémillet, D., Lescroël, A., Grecian, W.J., et al. 2013. Individual differences in searching behaviour and spatial foraging consistency in a central place marine predator. Oikos 123: 33-40
  • Robertson, G.S., Bolton, M., Grecian, W.J. & Monaghan, P. 2014. Inter‑ and intra‑year variation in foraging areas of breeding kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla). Marine Biology 161:1973–1986.
  • Wakefield, E.D., Cleasby, I.R., Bearhop, S., Bodey, T.W., Davies, R.D.D, et al. 2015. Long-term individual foraging site fidelity—why some gannets don’t change their spots. Ecology 96:3058–3074.
  • Wakefield, E.D., Owen, E., Baer, J., Carroll, M.J., Daunt, F., et al. 2017. Breeding density, fine-scale tracking, and large-scale modelling reveal the regional distribution of four seabird species. Ecological Applications. 27, 2074–2091. doi:10.1002/eap.1591
  • Weimerskirch, H. 2007. Are seabirds foraging for unpredictable resources? Deep-Sea Research II 54: 211–223.


Academic Host

ISPA - Instituto Universitário
Lisbon, Portugal
Paulo Catry


BirdLife International
Cambridge, UK
Maria Dias
Paul F. Donald
Stu Butchart


Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Sandy, UK
Steffen Oppel
British Antarctic Survey
Cambridge, UK
Richard Phillips