MEPS 288:251-261 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps288251

Foraging strategy of a tropical seabird, the red-footed booby, in a dynamic marine environment

Henri Weimerskirch1,3,*, Matthieu Le Corre2, Sébastien Jaquemet2, Francis Marsac1

1IRD, Centre de la Réunion, UR 109 Thetis, BP 172, 97492 Sainte Clotilde, Ile de la Réunion, France
2Laboratoire d’Ecologie Marine, Université de la Réunion 15 avenue René Cassin, BP 7151, 97715 Saint Denis,Ile de la Réunion, France
3Present address: Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, CNRS, 79360 Villiers en Bois, France

ABSTRACT: The foraging behaviour of animals depends on the distribution, abundance and predictability of their food resources. In the marine environment, top predators such as seabirds are known to concentrate their foraging effort in specific oceanic features where productivity is elevated or prey concentrated. When marine productivity is low and prey distribution unpredictable, such as in tropical waters, selection should favour the evolution of flexible foraging strategies. By using GPS, Argos transmitters and activity recorders, we studied the foraging strategy of red-footed boobies (RFBs) Sula sula breeding on Europa Island in the Mozambique Channel, to examine the way a central place forager searches for prey in tropical waters. RFBs only foraged during the day-time and never sat on the water at night; thus, they consequently had a limited maximum foraging range of 148 km. Primary production within this range was low overall (average 0.165 mg chlorophyll m–3), with a high spatial and temporal heterogeneity due to the presence of strong geostrophic currents and surface mixing by storms. RFBs appear to adjust their foraging strategy to cope with this situation. Individual birds do not return to the same oceanic sites from one trip to the next, but generally head in the direction of zones where productivity is enhanced. Active foraging, i.e. periods when birds spent time on the sea surface or dived, occurred at the most distant part of the foraging trip. Despite their limited foraging range and the low productivity of surrounding waters, red-footed boobies are able to track zones of prey availability located in areas of enhanced primary production. Searching is probably favoured by the presence of sub-surface predators that chase prey to the surface. The foraging strategy of this tropical sulid appears to differ extensively from that of temperate or polar seabirds whose prey distribution and availability are more predictable.

KEY WORDS: Sula sula · GPS · Satellite tracking · Mozambique Channel · Chlorophyll concentration · Sea-level height anomalies

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