MEPS 498:275-285 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10628

Testing for sub-colony variation in seabird foraging behaviour: ecological and methodological consequences for understanding colonial living

J. J. Waggitt1,*, M. Briffa2, W. J. Grecian3, J. Newton4, S. C. Patrick5, C. Stauss2, S. C. Votier6

1School of Biological Sciences, Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ, UK
2Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, University of Plymouth, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK
3Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK
4Natural Environment Research Council Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Ranking Avenue, East Kilbride G75 0QF, UK
5Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, CNRS, 79360 Villiers-en-Bois, France
6Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9EZ, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Intraspecific interactions have important roles in shaping foraging behaviours. For colonial species such as seabirds, intense competition for prey around colonies may drive differences in foraging behaviour between age-classes and sexes or lead to individual specialisation. While much research has focussed on understanding these differences in foraging behaviour, few studies have investigated the possibility of sub-colony foraging asymmetries within colonies. Such knowledge could improve our understanding of the ecological processes associated with colonial living. It may also have important methodological implications in studies where the foraging behaviours recorded from individuals in a small number of sub-colonies are assumed to be representative of those from the colony as a whole. Here, we use GPS loggers and stable isotope analysis of red blood cells to test for differences in foraging behaviour among 7 sub-colonies of a large northern gannet Morus bassanus colony over 3 yr. We found no instances of statistically significant differences in foraging behaviour among sub-colonies. Although complimentary in situ observations found similarities among neighbours’ departure directions, these results may be attributable to wind vectors. We therefore conclude that sub-colony foraging asymmetries are either limited or absent in northern gannets. However, given the current lack of knowledge across seabird species, we urge similar studies elsewhere.


KEY WORDS: Morus bassanus · Foraging ecology · Social information · GPS tracking · Stable isotope analysis · Colonial living


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Cite this article as: Waggitt JJ, Briffa M, Grecian WJ, Newton J, Patrick SC, Stauss C, Votier SC (2014) Testing for sub-colony variation in seabird foraging behaviour: ecological and methodological consequences for understanding colonial living. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 498:275-285. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10628

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