MEPS 167:241-259 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/meps167241

Comparative foraging ecology of planktivorous auklets in relation to ocean physics and prey availability

George L. Hunt Jr1,*, Robert W. Russell1,**, Kenneth O. Coyle2, Thomas Weingartner2

1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA 2Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA
**Present address: Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803-3126, USA

We tested the hypothesis that the spatial distributions of foraging least, crested and parakeet auklets (Aethia pusilla, A. cristatella and A. psittacula, respectively) in the shallow passes of the Aleutian Islands would be determined by physical mechanisms that control near-surface prey concentrations. We recorded currents using an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler, volume scattering using 200 and 420 kHz scientific echosounders, and the numbers of foraging birds. Zooplankton were sampled using a multiple opening/closing net and environmental sampling system (MOCNESS). Prey choice of birds was ascertained by collecting foraging birds and examining their stomach contents. Most sampling occurred between 8 July and 6 August 1993, when we conducted 50 passages along a transect that crossed a sill between Unalga and Kavalga Islands, western Aleutian Islands, thereby sampling the foraging activity of auklets at a variety of times of day and tidal phases. We found that the abundance of foraging individuals of each of the 3 auklet species was a function of tidal speed. Auklet species were selective about the species of prey taken. Regardless of tidal direction, crested auklets foraged on euphausiids upwelled on the upstream side of the pass, whereas least auklets consumed copepods concentrated in near-surface convergences on the downstream side. Parakeet auklets foraged over the top of the pass and took fish and invertebrates. Tidal speed and direction influenced the distance between the peak numbers of some, but not all, species of auklets. Auklet prey preferences dictated where they foraged in the pass and the physical mechanisms exploited for successful foraging. Thus, in this instance, resource partitioning by these closely related planktivores was enhanced by a spatial segregation forced by the physical processes that enhanced the availability of prey. Our findings emphasize the important role of physical processes in the structuring of marine communities.

Biological-physical coupling · Tidal fronts · Least auklet · Crested auklet · Parakeet auklet · Aethia pusilla · Aethia cristatella · Aethia psittacula · Seabird foraging ecology

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