Relationships between habitat area, habitat quality, and populations of nesting Marbled Murrelets


  • Alan E. Burger
  • F. Louise Waterhouse



Brachyramphus marmoratus, habitat assessment, habitat management, habitat quality, Marbled Murrelet, nesting habitat, population-habitat relationships


We review relationships between the area and quality of apparently suitable nesting habitat (as defined by canopy structure) and the population size of Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) which such habitat might support. This information is important to manage the old seral forest nesting habitat of this threatened seabird. Studies at different spatial scales indicate that linear relationships provide good, biologically feasible fits between murrelet counts and areas of apparently suitable habitat when the effects of habitat quality are unknown. A large-scale analysis across Washington, Oregon, and California showed a strong linear relationship between murrelet numbers and area of habitat within large conservation regions. Seven separate watershed-level radar studies (six in British Columbia and one in Washington) support a linear relationship and also indicate that when logging reduces habitat, the murrelets do not aggregate in the remaining habitat at higher densities. Tree-climbing studies show similar trends at stand levels: compared to more pristine habitat, nest densities were not higher in remnant old-growth patches in depleted, highly fragmented areas. Do murrelets nest at higher densities in higher-quality habitat? The sparse information on this topic suggests a correspondence between nest locations and habitat quality as assessed by algorithms, air photo interpretation, and low-level aerial surveys. Most nests (92% and 86% in pooled data from aerial surveys or air photo interpretation, respectively) were found in habitat rated as Moderate, High, or Very High, and few (8% and 14%, respectively) in those rated Low, Very Low, or Nil. The relationship between perceived quality and the likelihood of nesting is, however, non-linear and it is premature to assume that murrelet nest densities will be significantly higher within the upper ranks of suitable habitat assessed from forest features.