Smarter ConservationIf you can't fully protect a wildlife habitat, the next best thing is to make sure that the parts that are protected are the most important ones and that they work well together to sustain a working ecosystem. For example, we know that protecting a relatively small fraction of the oceans - but in the right places - could greatly help protect marine mammals, and we know that wildlife corridors between protected "islands" are crucial.
Scientists in the UK have been analyzing the foraging patterns of seabirds and this is helping them pinpoint the most important areas to protect to safeguard the birds. So far, most of the efforts have gone to protect breeding colonies directly, and that's great, but it won't be enough if the areas where the birds feed are not also protected.
The team, which also included researchers from Birdlife International and the RSPB, said the protection of foraging areas was widely recognised as a key component to breeding successes. [...]
The study reviewed data for 25 seabird species, from 304 studies. [...] Dr Thaxter said the findings could be useful for policymakers: "The generic foraging range information could be a very useful tool, as a first step, to narrow the range of areas at sea that could be used by species that breed in the UK.
"This could then lead to informed decisions on where is best to locate the protected areas." (source)
I hope that similar studies will be done in other coastal areas so that we can do smarter conservation. We'll never be able to do a good job if we don't understand how whole ecosystems work...