ECS 2022 Habitat Use

As part of the 33rd conference of the European Cetacean Society, in the "habitat use" section, our association presented a study entitledCritical habitats of bottlenose dolphin in the MPA Regno di Nettuno, Gulf of Naples, Italy.

Species conservation requires a clear understanding of habitat use. The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is a coastal species subject to various anthropogenic threats.

In this research, we use a combination of behavioral observations and GIS analysis to identify critical points for bottlenose dolphins around the islands of Ischia and Procida. The surveys took place mainly within the Marine Protected Area "Kingdom of Neptune," which is organized into five zones with different levels of protection; one of these, Zone D, is dedicated to marine mammals. Data were collected from 2004 to 2018 by the Ischia Dolphin Project, a long-term cetacean research program.

To assess habitat use, GPS coordinates were taken every three minutes during sightings and then analyzed using QGIS Kernel Density Estimation and Hotspot analysis. We conducted 1186 surveys (58332 km). During monitoring, we encountered 91 groups of bottlenose dolphins and spent 156 hours (877 km) in observations. Hotspot maps were created from the analysis of 71 behavioral sequences > 40 min, with an average duration of 121 min (range 41-417).

Feeding hotspots were identified north, northwest of Ischia, and northwest of Procida; socialization and mating hotspots partially intersect with feeding hotspots, but the one northwest of Procida is more considerable; a resting hotspot was located northwest of Procida. The main habitats of bottlenose dolphins are only partially protected by the zoning of the Marine Protected Area. Specifically, hotspots NW of Procida, located on the main route to Naples, are particularly vulnerable to disturbance from commercial and recreational traffic. Cutting-edge conservation policies can take advantage of this spatial information to enhance the preservation of protected species. In particular, the MPA should use them to revise and expand the boundaries of zone D dedicated to marine mammals