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Aquatic Biology

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AB 8:203-219 (2010)  -  DOI:

Modeling profitability for the smallest marine endotherms: auklets foraging within pelagic prey patches

James R. Lovvorn*

Department of Zoology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois 62901, USA

ABSTRACT: Auklets (Alcidae) can be very abundant in north-temperate to arctic seas. Their numbers and trophic impacts in a given area depend on their ability to forage profitably as a function of the dispersion, depth, and density of prey patches. Thus, modeling these relationships is important when predicting the auklets’ response to environmental change. This paper presents a simulation model of the foraging costs and intake rates of Cassin’s auklets Ptychoramphus aleuticus (~170 g) and least auklets Aethia pusilla (~80 g) once they have located a patch of zooplankton prey. In the model, water temperature and dive depth (max. 20 m) have important effects on dive costs, mainly by affecting the duration and magnitude of costs during passive ascent. Within a prey patch, modeled intake rates are limited at relatively low prey densities by pursuit and handling time after a prey item is detected. Because intake rate is limited by capture time and not prey visibility, the model indicates that changes in light conditions over these depths have little direct effect on intake rates of zooplankton prey. However, vertical migration of prey in response to diel light cycles can strongly affect profitability (energy gain minus cost) by altering the depth of dives to prey patches. Because pursuit and handling time limit modeled intake rate, profitability cannot be increased further by finding patches of higher density, but rather by extending time in patches by swimming farther or slower. The model suggests that auklet dispersion should be insensitive to variations in patch density above a threshold that is relatively low compared to the very high densities that can occur. However, auklets may be attracted to higher-density patches because the patches themselves are more visible or predictable, or because other predators—from seabirds to whales—may gather in such patches and increase their visibility.

KEY WORDS: Alcidae · Body size scaling · Diving birds · Dive loggers · Energetics models · Krill predators · Visual foraging

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Cite this article as: Lovvorn JR (2010) Modeling profitability for the smallest marine endotherms: auklets foraging within pelagic prey patches. Aquat Biol 8:203-219.

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