Effects of age on foraging behavior in two closely related albatross species.
ABSTRACT: 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:Seasonal and annual climate variations are linked to fluctuations in the abundance and distribution of resources, posing a significant challenge to animals that need to adjust their foraging behavior accordingly. Particularly during adverse conditions, and while energetically constrained when breeding, animals ideally need to be flexible in their foraging behavior. Such behavioral plasticity may separate "winners" from "losers" in light of rapid environmental changes due to climate change. Here, the foraging behavior of four sub-Antarctic albatross species was investigated from 2015/16 to 2017/18, a period characterized by pronounced environmental variability. Over three breeding seasons on Marion Island, Prince Edward Archipelago, incubating wandering (WA, Diomedea exulans; n = 45), grey-headed (GHA, Thalassarche chrysostoma; n = 26), sooty (SA, Phoebetria fusca; n = 23), and light-mantled (LMSA, P. palpebrata; n = 22) albatrosses were tracked with GPS loggers. The response of birds to environmental variability was investigated by quantifying interannual changes in their foraging behavior along two axes: spatial distribution, using kernel density analysis, and foraging habitat preference, using generalized additive mixed models and Bayesian mixed models. All four species were shown to respond behaviorally to environmental variability, but with substantial differences in their foraging strategies. WA was most general in its habitat use defined by sea surface height, eddy kinetic energy, wind speed, ocean floor slope, and sea-level anomaly, with individuals foraging in a range of habitats. In contrast, the three smaller albatrosses exploited two main foraging habitats, with habitat use varying between years. Generalist habitat use by WA and interannually variable use of habitats by GHA, SA, and LMSA would likely offer these species some resilience to predicted changes in climate such as warming seas and strengthening of westerly winds. However, future investigations need to consider other life-history stages coupled with demographic studies, to better understand the link between behavioral plasticity and population responses.
Project description:The historical debate of the 1960s between group and individual selection hinged on how the slow breeding of seabirds could be explained. While this debate was settled by the ascendance of individual selection, championed by David Lack, explanations for slow breeding in seabirds remain to be tested. We examined the slowest breeding of these birds, the albatrosses and petrels (order Procellariiformes), using analyses that statistically controlled for variations in body size and phylogeny. Incubation and fledging periods appeared strongly correlated, but this turned out to be largely explained by phylogeny. Nonetheless, developmental and reproductive rates were associated with the distance to the foraging range, as predicted under the hypothesis of ecological constraints on breeding pairs, and these results were independent of body size and phylogeny. Slower breeding in these seabirds appeared associated with the rigors of farther pelagic feeding, as Lack originally hypothesized.
Project description:Marine ecosystems are heavily influenced by a wide range of human-related impacts, and thus monitoring is essential to preserve and manage these sensitive habitats. Seabirds are considered important bioindicators of the oceans, but accessing breeding populations can be difficult, expensive and time consuming. New technologies have been employed to facilitate data collection on seabirds that can reduce costs and minimize disturbance. Among these, the use of time-lapse photography is a potentially effective way to reduce researcher effort, while collecting valuable information on key ecological parameters. However, the feasibility of this approach remains uncertain. Here, we assessed the use of time-lapse photography as a tool for estimating foraging behaviour from breeding seabirds, and evaluate ways forward for this method. We deployed cameras in front of active nests at a colony of black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) during two breeding seasons, 5 nests in 2013 and 5 in 2014, taking pictures every 4 minutes. A subsample of monitored individuals were also equipped with accelerometers. Approximately 100,000 frames, covering incubation and chick-rearing periods, were analysed. Estimates of foraging trip duration from images were positively correlated with accelerometry estimates (R2 = 0.967). Equal partitioning of effort between pairs, predation events, nest attendance patterns and variation in trip metrics with breeding stage were also identified. Our results suggest that time-lapse photography is potentially a useful tool for assessing foraging trip duration and other fine-scale nesting ecology parameters as well as for assessing the effect of bio-logging devices on seabird foraging behaviour. Nevertheless, the time investment to manually extract data from images was high, and the process to set up cameras was not straightforward. To encourage wide use of time-lapse photography in seabird ecology, we thus provide guidelines for camera deployment and we suggest a need for further development of automated approaches to allow data extraction.
Project description: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:The spatiotemporal distribution of animals is dependent on a suite of factors, including the distribution of resources, interactions within and between species, physiological limitations, and requirements for reproduction, dispersal, or migration. During breeding, reproductive constraints play a major role in the distribution and behavior of central place foragers, such as pelagic seabirds. We examined the foraging behavior and marine habitat selection of Laysan (Phoebastria immutabilis) and black-footed (P. nigripes) albatrosses throughout their eight month breeding cycle at Tern Island, Northwest Hawaiian Islands to evaluate how variable constraints of breeding influenced habitat availability and foraging decisions. We used satellite tracking and light-based geolocation to determine foraging locations of individuals, and applied a biologically realistic null usage model to generate control locations and model habitat preference under a case-control design. Remotely sensed oceanographic data were used to characterize albatross habitats in the North Pacific. RESULTS:Individuals of both species ranged significantly farther and for longer durations during incubation and chick-rearing compared to the brooding period. Interspecific segregation of core foraging areas was observed during incubation and chick-rearing, but not during brooding. At-sea activity patterns were most similar between species during brooding; neither species altered foraging effort to compensate for presumed low prey availability and high energy demands during this stage. Habitat selection during long-ranging movements was most strongly associated with sea surface temperature for both species, with a preference for cooler ocean temperatures compared to overall availability. During brooding, lower explanatory power of habitat models was likely related to the narrow range of ocean temperatures available for selection. CONCLUSIONS:Laysan and black-footed albatrosses differ from other albatross species in that they breed in an oligotrophic marine environment. During incubation and chick-rearing, they travel to cooler, more productive waters, but are restricted to the low-productivity environment near the colony during brooding, when energy requirements are greatest. Compared to other albatross species, Laysan and black-footed albatrosses spend a greater proportion of time in flight when foraging, especially during the brooding period; this strategy may be adaptive for locating dispersed prey in an oligotrophic environment.
Project description:Very little is known about trophic ontogenetic changes over the prolonged immaturity period of long-lived, wide-ranging seabirds. By using blood and feather trophic tracers (?13C and ?15N, and mercury, Hg), we studied age-related changes in feeding ecology during the immature phase of wandering albatrosses Diomedea exulans when they gradually change from a pure oceanic life to visits to their future breeding grounds. Immatures fed in subtropical waters at high trophic positions during moult. Between- and within-individual variations in isotopic niche were very high, irrespective of age, highlighting wide-ranging exploratory behaviours. In summer, while acting as central-place foragers from their future breeding colony, individuals progressively relied on lower trophic level prey and/or southern latitudes as they aged, until occupying a similar isotopic niche to that of adults. Immatures had exceptionally high Hg burdens, with males having lower Hg concentrations than females, suggesting that they foraged more in subantarctic waters. Our findings suggest a progressive ontogenetic niche shift during central-place foraging of this long-lived species.
Project description:Despite their importance in marine food webs, much has yet to be learned about the spatial ecology of small seabirds. This includes the Leach's storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa, a species that is declining throughout its Northwest Atlantic breeding range. In 2013 and 2014, we used global location sensors to track foraging movements of incubating storm-petrels from 7 eastern Canadian breeding colonies. We determined and compared the foraging trip and at-sea habitat characteristics, analysed spatial overlap among colonies, and determined whether colony foraging ranges intersected with offshore oil and gas operations. Individuals tracked during the incubation period made 4.0 ± 1.4 day foraging trips, travelling to highly pelagic waters over and beyond continental slopes which ranged, on average, 400 to 830 km from colonies. Cumulative travel distances ranged from ~900 to 2,100 km among colonies. While colony size did not influence foraging trip characteristics or the size of areas used at sea, foraging distances tended to be shorter for individuals breeding at the southern end of the range. Core areas did not overlap considerably among colonies, and individuals from all sites except Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy foraged over waters with median depths > 1,950 m and average chlorophyll a concentrations ? 0.6 mg/m3. Sea surface temperatures within colony core areas varied considerably (11-23°C), coincident with the birds' use of cold waters of the Labrador Current or warmer waters of the Gulf Stream Current. Offshore oil and gas operations intersected with the foraging ranges of 5 of 7 colonies. Three of these, including Baccalieu Island, Newfoundland, which supports the species' largest population, have experienced substantial declines in the last few decades. Future work should prioritize modelling efforts to incorporate information on relative predation risk at colonies, spatially explicit risks at-sea on the breeding and wintering grounds, effects of climate and marine ecosystem change, as well as lethal and sub-lethal effects of environmental contaminants, to better understand drivers of Leach's storm-petrel populations trends in Atlantic Canada.
Project description:Despite international waters covering over 60% of the world's oceans, understanding of how fisheries in these regions shape ecosystem processes is surprisingly poor. Seabirds forage at fishing vessels, which has potentially deleterious effects for their population, but the extent of overlap and behavior in relation to ships is poorly known. Using novel biologging devices, which detect radar emissions and record the position of boats and seabirds, we measured the true extent of the overlap between seabirds and fishing vessels and generated estimates of the intensity of fishing and distribution of vessels in international waters. During breeding, wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) from the Crozet Islands patrolled an area of over 10 million km2 at distances up to 2500 km from the colony. Up to 79.5% of loggers attached to birds detected vessels. The extent of overlap between albatrosses and fisheries has widespread implications for bycatch risk in seabirds and reveals the areas of intense fishing throughout the ocean. We suggest that seabirds equipped with radar detectors are excellent monitors of the presence of vessels in the Southern Ocean and offer a new way to monitor the presence of illegal fisheries and to better understand the impact of fisheries on seabirds.
Project description:Animals are primarily limited by their capacity to acquire food, yet digestive performance also conditions energy acquisition, and ultimately fitness. Optimal foraging theory predicts that organisms feeding on patchy resources should maximize their food loads within each patch, and should digest these loads quickly to minimize travelling costs between food patches. We tested the prediction of high digestive performance in wandering albatrosses, which can ingest prey of up to 3 kg, and feed on highly dispersed food resources across the southern ocean. GPS-tracking of 40 wandering albatrosses from the Crozet archipelago during the incubation phase confirmed foraging movements of between 475-4705 km, which give birds access to a variety of prey, including fishery wastes. Moreover, using miniaturized, autonomous data recorders placed in the stomach of three birds, we performed the first-ever measurements of gastric pH and temperature in procellariformes. These revealed surprisingly low pH levels (average 1.50±0.13), markedly lower than in other seabirds, and comparable to those of vultures feeding on carrion. Such low stomach pH gives wandering albatrosses a strategic advantage since it allows them a rapid chemical breakdown of ingested food and therefore a rapid digestion. This is useful for feeding on patchy, natural prey, but also on fishery wastes, which might be an important additional food resource for wandering albatrosses.
Project description:Among the varied adaptations for avian flight, the morphological traits allowing large-bodied albatrosses to capitalize on wind and wave energy for efficient long-distance flight are unparalleled. Consequently, the biogeographic distribution of most albatrosses is limited to the windiest oceanic regions on earth; however, exceptions exist. Species breeding in the North and Central Pacific Ocean (Phoebastria spp.) inhabit regions of lower wind speed and wave height than southern hemisphere genera, and have large intrageneric variation in body size and aerodynamic performance. Here, we test the hypothesis that regional wind and wave regimes explain observed differences in Phoebastria albatross morphology and we compare their aerodynamic performance to representatives from the other three genera of this globally distributed avian family. In the North and Central Pacific, two species (short-tailed P. albatrus and waved P. irrorata) are markedly larger, yet have the smallest breeding ranges near highly productive coastal upwelling systems. Short-tailed albatrosses, however, have 60% higher wing loading (weight per area of lift) compared to waved albatrosses. Indeed, calculated aerodynamic performance of waved albatrosses, the only tropical albatross species, is more similar to those of their smaller congeners (black-footed P. nigripes and Laysan P. immutabilis), which have relatively low wing loading and much larger foraging ranges that include central oceanic gyres of relatively low productivity. Globally, the aerodynamic performance of short-tailed and waved albatrosses are most anomalous for their body sizes, yet consistent with wind regimes within their breeding season foraging ranges. Our results are the first to integrate global wind and wave patterns with albatross aerodynamics, thereby identifying morphological specialization that may explain limited breeding ranges of two endangered albatross species. These results are further relevant to understanding past and potentially predicting future distributional limits of albatrosses globally, particularly with respect to climate change effects on basin-scale and regional wind fields.