Effect of breeding performance on the distribution and activity budgets of a predominantly resident population of black-browed albatrosses.
ABSTRACT: Pelagic seabirds breeding at high latitudes generally split their annual cycle between reproduction, migration, and wintering. During the breeding season, they are constrained in their foraging range due to reproduction while during winter months, and they often undertake long-distance migrations. Black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophris) nesting in the Falkland archipelago remain within 700 km from their breeding colonies all year-round and can therefore be considered as resident. Accordingly, at-sea activity patterns are expected to be adjusted to the absence of migration. Likewise, breeding performance is expected to affect foraging, flying, and floating activities, as failed individuals are relieved from reproduction earlier than successful ones. Using geolocators coupled with a saltwater immersion sensor, we detailed the spatial distribution and temporal dynamics of at-sea activity budgets of successful and failed breeding black-browed albatrosses nesting in New Island, Falklands archipelago, over the breeding and subsequent nonbreeding season. The 90% monthly kernel distribution of failed and successful breeders suggested no spatial segregation. Both groups followed the same dynamics of foraging effort both during daylight and darkness all year, except during chick-rearing, when successful breeders foraged more intensively. Failed and successful breeders started decreasing flying activities during daylight at the same time, 2-3 weeks after hatching period, but failed breeders reached their maximum floating activity during late chick-rearing, 2 months before successful breeders. Moon cycle had a significant effect on activity budgets during darkness, with individuals generally more active during full moon. Our results highlight that successful breeders buffer potential reproductive costs during the nonbreeding season, and this provides a better understanding of how individuals adjust their spatial distribution and activity budgets according to their breeding performance in absence of migration.
Project description:Background:Foraging performance is widely hypothesized to play a key role in shaping age-specific demographic rates in wild populations, yet the underlying behavioral changes are poorly understood. Seabirds are among the longest-lived vertebrates, and demonstrate extensive age-related variation in survival, breeding frequency and success. The breeding season is a particularly critical phase during the annual cycle, but it remains unclear whether differences in experience or physiological condition related to age interact with the changing degree of the central-place constraint in shaping foraging patterns in time and space. Methods:Here we analyze tracking data collected over two decades from congeneric black-browed (BBA) and grey-headed (GHA) albatrosses, Thalassarche melanophris and T. chrysostoma, breeding at South Georgia. We compare the foraging trip parameters, at-sea activity (flights and landings) and habitat preferences of individuals aged 10-45?years and contrast these patterns between the incubation and early chick-rearing stages. Results:Young breeders of both species showed improvements in foraging competency with age, reducing foraging trip duration until age 26. Thereafter, there were signs of foraging senescence; older adults took gradually longer trips, narrowed their habitat preference (foraging within a smaller range of sea surface temperatures) (GHA), made fewer landings and rested on the water for longer (BBA). Some age-specific effects were apparent for each species only in certain breeding stages, highlighting the complex interaction between intrinsic drivers in determining individual foraging strategies. Conclusions:Using cross-sectional data, this study highlighted clear age-related patterns in foraging behavior at the population-level for two species of albatrosses. These trends are likely to have important consequences for the population dynamics of these threatened seabirds, as young or old individuals may be more vulnerable to worsening environmental conditions.
Project description:Environmental and anthropogenic factors often drive population declines in top predators, but how their influences may combine remains unclear. Albatrosses are particularly threatened. They breed in fast-changing environments, and their extensive foraging ranges expose them to incidental mortality (bycatch) in multiple fisheries. The albatross community at South Georgia includes globally important populations of three species that have declined by 40-60% over the last 35 years. We used three steps to deeply understand the drivers of such dramatic changes: (i) describe fundamental demographic rates using multievent models, (ii) determine demographic drivers of population growth using matrix models, and (iii) identify environmental and anthropogenic drivers using ANOVAs. Each species was affected by different processes and threats in their foraging areas during the breeding and nonbreeding seasons. There was evidence for two kinds of combined environmental and anthropogenic effects. The first was sequential; in wandering and black-browed albatrosses, high levels of bycatch have reduced juvenile and adult survival, then increased temperature, reduced sea-ice cover, and stronger winds are affecting the population recovery potential. The second was additive; in gray-headed albatrosses, not only did bycatch impact adult survival but also this impact was exacerbated by lower food availability in years following El Niño events. This emphasizes the need for much improved implementation of mitigation measures in fisheries and better enforcement of compliance. We hope our results not only help focus future management actions for these populations but also demonstrate the power of the modelling approach for assessing impacts of environmental and anthropogenic drivers in wild animal populations.
Project description:Many animals partition resources to avoid competition, and in colonially-breeding species this often leads to divergent space or habitat use. During the non-breeding season, foraging constraints are relaxed, yet the patterns and drivers of segregation both between and within populations are poorly understood. We modelled habitat preference to examine how extrinsic (habitat availability and intra-specific competition) and intrinsic factors (population, sex and breeding outcome) influence the distributions of non-breeding grey-headed albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma tracked from two major populations, South Georgia (Atlantic Ocean) and the Prince Edward Islands (Indian Ocean). Spatial segregation was greater than expected, reflecting distinct seasonal differences in habitat selection and accessibility, and avoidance of intra-specific competition with local breeders. Previously failed birds segregated spatially from successful birds during summer, when they used less productive waters, suggesting a link between breeding outcome and subsequent habitat selection. In contrast, we found weak evidence of sexual segregation, which did not reflect a difference in habitat use. Our results indicate that the large-scale spatial structuring of albatross distributions results from interactions between extrinsic and intrinsic factors, with important implications for population dynamics. As habitat preferences differed substantially between colonies, populations should be considered independently when identifying critical areas for protection.
Project description:Invasive species present a major conservation threat globally and nowhere are their affects more pronounced than in island ecosystems. Determining how native island populations respond demographically to invasive species can provide information to mitigate the negative effects of invasive species. Using 20 years of mark-recapture data from three sympatric species of albatrosses (black-browed Thalassarche melanophris, grey-headed T. chrysostoma, and light-mantled albatrosses Phoebetria palpebrata), we quantified the influence of invasive European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus and extreme weather patterns on breeding probability and success. Temporal variability in rabbit density explained 33-76% of the variability in breeding probability for all three species, with severe decreases in breeding probability observed after a lag period following highest rabbit numbers. For black-browed albatrosses, the combination of extreme rainfall and high rabbit density explained 33% of total trait variability and dramatically reduced breeding success. We showed that invasive rabbits and extreme weather events reduce reproductive output in albatrosses and that eliminating rabbits had a positive effect on albatross reproduction. This illustrates how active animal management at a local breeding site can result in positive population outcomes even for wide ranging animals like albatrosses where influencing vital rates during their at-sea migrations is more challenging.
Project description:It is an open question how animals find food in dynamic natural environments where they possess little or no knowledge of where resources are located. Foraging theory predicts that in environments with sparsely distributed target resources, where forager knowledge about resources' locations is incomplete, Lévy flight movements optimize the success of random searches. However, the putative success of Lévy foraging has been demonstrated only in model simulations. Here, we use high-temporal-resolution Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking of wandering (Diomedea exulans) and black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys) with simultaneous recording of prey captures, to show that both species exhibit Lévy and Brownian movement patterns. We find that total prey masses captured by wandering albatrosses during Lévy movements exceed daily energy requirements by nearly fourfold, and approached yields by Brownian movements in other habitats. These results, together with our reanalysis of previously published albatross data, overturn the notion that albatrosses do not exhibit Lévy patterns during foraging, and demonstrate that Lévy flights of predators in dynamic natural environments present a beneficial alternative strategy to simple, spatially intensive behaviors. Our findings add support to the possibility that biological Lévy flight may have naturally evolved as a search strategy in response to sparse resources and scant information.
Project description:Changes to patterns of wind and ocean currents are tightly linked to climate change and have important implications for cost of travel and energy budgets in marine vertebrates. We evaluated how El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-driven wind patterns affected breeding Laysan and black-footed albatross across a decade of study. Owing to latitudinal variation in wind patterns, wind speed differed between habitat used during incubation and brooding; during La Niña conditions, wind speeds were lower in incubating Laysan (though not black-footed) albatross habitat, but higher in habitats used by brooding albatrosses. Incubating Laysan albatrosses benefited from increased wind speeds during El Niño conditions, showing increased travel speeds and mass gained during foraging trips. However, brooding albatrosses did not benefit from stronger winds during La Niña conditions, instead experiencing stronger cumulative headwinds and a smaller proportion of trips in tailwinds. Increased travel costs during brooding may contribute to the lower reproductive success observed in La Niña conditions. Furthermore, benefits of stronger winds in incubating habitat may explain the higher reproductive success of Laysan albatross during El Niño conditions. Our findings highlight the importance of considering habitat accessibility and cost of travel when evaluating the impacts of climate-driven habitat change on marine predators.
Project description:Specialists and generalists often coexist within a single population, but the biological drivers of individual strategies are not fully resolved. When sexes differ in their foraging strategy, this can lead them to different environmental conditions and stability across their habitat range. As such, sexual segregation, combined with dominance, may lead to varying levels of specialization between the sexes. Here, we examine spatial and temporal niche width (intraindividual variability in aspects of foraging behaviour) of male and female black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys), and its consequences for fitness. We show that females, where maximum foraging range is under fluctuating selection, exhibit more variable behaviours and appear more generalist than males, who are under directional selection to forage close to the colony. However within each sex, successful birds had a much narrower niche width across most behaviours, suggesting some specialization is adaptive in both sexes. These results demonstrate that while there are sex differences in niche width, the fitness benefit of specialization in spatial distribution is strong in this wide-ranging seabird.
Project description:The difficulty in studying nonbreeding birds means that little is known about them or their resource requirements, despite forming a large and significant component of a population. One way to assess food requirements is to examine changes in body mass, because it indicates the amount of food acquired. In terms of body mass changes, our expectation is that nonbreeders will either (a) be in poorer condition than the breeders which potentially explains why they do not breed or (b) remain at a stable higher mass as they are unconstrained by the physiological costs associated with rearing chicks. Here, we interrogate body mass datasets of breeding and nonbreeding birds of two penguin species to assess these predictions and determine whether differences in mass exist between these two groups throughout the breeding season. The first dataset is from a wild Adélie penguin population, where bird mass was recorded automatically and breeding status determined from a resighting program. A second population of captive gentoo penguins were weighed regularly each breeding season. We demonstrate that although there were times in each year when breeders were heavier than their nonbreeding counterparts for both populations, the mass changes showed qualitatively similar patterns throughout the breeding season irrespective of breeding status. Heavier breeders at times during the breeding season are not unexpected but the overall similar pattern of mass change irrespective of breeding status is in contrast to expectations. It appears that breeding status per se and the constraints that breeding places on birds are not the only driver of changes in mass throughout the breeding season and, although not explicitly studied here, the role of hormones in driving changes in appetite could be key to explain these results. These results present a significant step toward understanding food requirements of nonbreeders in avian populations.
Project description:Density-dependent competition for food resources influences both foraging ecology and reproduction in a variety of animals. The relationship between colony size, local prey depletion, and reproductive output in colonial central-place foragers has been extensively studied in seabirds; however, most studies have focused on effects of intraspecific competition during the breeding season, while little is known about whether density-dependent resource depletion influences individual migratory behavior outside the breeding season. Using breeding colony size as a surrogate for intraspecific resource competition, we tested for effects of colony size on breeding home range, nestling health, and migratory patterns of a nearshore colonial seabird, the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), originating from seven breeding colonies of varying sizes in the subtropical northern Gulf of Mexico. We found evidence for density-dependent effects on foraging behavior during the breeding season, as individual foraging areas increased linearly with the number of breeding pairs per colony. Contrary to our predictions, however, nestlings from more numerous colonies with larger foraging ranges did not experience either decreased condition or increased stress. During nonbreeding, individuals from larger colonies were more likely to migrate, and traveled longer distances, than individuals from smaller colonies, indicating that the influence of density-dependent effects on distribution persists into the nonbreeding period. We also found significant effects of individual physical condition, particularly body size, on migratory behavior, which in combination with colony size suggesting that dominant individuals remain closer to breeding sites during winter. We conclude that density-dependent competition may be an important driver of both the extent of foraging ranges and the degree of migration exhibited by brown pelicans. However, the effects of density-dependent competition on breeding success and population regulation remain uncertain in this system.
Project description:Conditions experienced during the nonbreeding period have profound long-term effects on individual fitness and survival. Therefore, knowledge of habitat use during the nonbreeding period can provide insights into processes that regulate populations. At the Falkland Islands, the habitat use of South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens) during the nonbreeding period is of particular interest because the population is yet to recover from a catastrophic decline between the mid-1930s and 1965, and nonbreeding movements are poorly understood. Here, we assessed the habitat use of adult male (n = 13) and juvenile male (n = 6) South American sea lions at the Falkland Islands using satellite tags and stable isotope analysis of vibrissae. Male South American sea lions behaved like central place foragers. Foraging trips were restricted to the Patagonian Shelf and were typically short in distance and duration (127 ± 66 km and 4.1 ± 2.0 days, respectively). Individual male foraging trips were also typically characterized by a high degree of foraging site fidelity. However, the isotopic niche of adult males was smaller than juvenile males, which suggested that adult males were more consistent in their use of foraging habitats and prey over time. Our findings differ from male South American sea lions in Chile and Argentina, which undertake extended movements during the nonbreeding period. Hence, throughout their breeding range, male South American sea lions have diverse movement patterns during the nonbreeding period that intuitively reflects differences in the predictability or accessibility of preferred prey. Our findings challenge the long-standing notion that South American sea lions undertake a winter migration away from the Falkland Islands. Therefore, impediments to South American sea lion population recovery likely originate locally and conservation measures at a national level are likely to be effective in addressing the decline and the failure of the population to recover.