[MARMAM] New publication: beluga population dynamics and Bayesian integrated model

Mosnier, Arnaud Arnaud.Mosnier at dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Fri Aug 7 08:31:56 PDT 2015

Dear MARMAM members,

My co-authors and I would like to announce the publication of a paper describing population dynamics of St Lawrence beluga using a Bayesian integrated model.

A. Mosnier, T. Doniol-Valcroze, J.-F. Gosselin, V. Lesage, L.N. Measures, M.O. Hammill. 2015. Insights into processes of population decline using an integrated population model: The case of the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga (Delphinapterus leucas). Ecological Modelling 314, 15-31.

Integrated population models combine data from several sources into a single model to allow the simultaneous estimation of demographic parameters and the prediction of population trajectories. They are especially useful when survey data alone are insufficient to estimate precise vital rates and abundance, and to understand mechanisms of population growth and decline. The St. Lawrence Estuary (SLE) beluga population was depleted by intensive hunting over the past century, and had declined to 1000 individuals or less when it was afforded protection in 1979. Despite protective measures, the SLE population has shown no signs of recovery. Low abundance estimates and high calf mortalities observed in recent years have raised concerns as to its current status. An age-structured Bayesian model was used to describe population dynamics by integrating information from two different monitoring programs. The model included information on population size and proportion of young (<2 years-old) obtained from seven photographic aerial surveys flown between 1990 and 2009, and mortalities documented annually by a carcass monitoring program maintained from 1983 to 2012. Results suggest that the population was stable or slightly increasing from the end of the 1960s until the early 2000s when it numbered approximately 1000 belugas. The population then declined to 889 individuals (95%CI 672−1167) in 2012. Although neither dataset on its own could explain this decline, the integrated model was able to shed light on the internal processes involved. Results suggest substantial changes in population dynamics and age structure, moving from a stable period (1984−1998) characterized by a 3-year calving cycle and a population composed of 7.5% newborns and 42% immature individuals, to an unstable state (1999−2012) characterized by a 2-year calving cycle, high newborn mortality and a declining proportion of newborns and immatures (respectively, 6 and 33% in 2012). Independent indices of abundance, population age structure and calf production match model predictions, thus increasing our confidence in its conclusions. The lack of recovery, high adult mortality (6%) and highly variable newborn survival further increase concerns about this population.

The article is available in Open Access at: http://authors.elsevier.com/sd/article/S0304380015003129

Best regards,


Arnaud Mosnier

Biologiste / Biologist, Ph.D.
Biologie et conservation des mammifères marins / Marine mammal biology and conservation

Tél : (418) 775-0651
arnaud.mosnier at dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Pêches et Océans Canada / Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Institut Maurice Lamontagne / Maurice Lamontagne Institute
C.P. 1000 / P.O. Box 1000
850 Route de la mer
Mont-Joli, QC G5H 3Z4

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