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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 443:217-235 (2011)  -  DOI:

Active acoustic examination of the diving behavior of murres foraging on patchy prey

Kelly J. Benoit-Bird1,*, Kathy Kuletz2, Scott Heppell3, Nathan Jones4, Brian Hoover4

1College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 COAS Administration Building, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA
2US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503, USA
3Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, 104 Nash Hall, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA
4Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, 8272 Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing, California 95039, USA

ABSTRACT: During the 2008 and 2009 breeding seasons of murres Uria spp., we combined visual observations of these predators with active acoustics (sonar), fish trawls, zooplankton net tows, and hydrographic measurements in the area surrounding breeding colonies in the southeastern Bering Sea. We acoustically detected thousands of bubble trails that were strongly correlated with the number of visually detected murres, providing a new tool for quantitatively studying the foraging ecology of diving birds. At the regional scale, the number of acoustically detected bubble trails, which served as a proxy for diving murre abundance, was related to the combined availability and vertical accessibility of squid, krill, and pollock. There were, however, no clear relationships at this scale between diving murres and any individual prey taxon, highlighting the importance of prey diversity to these animals. Individual krill patches targeted by murres had higher krill density and were located shallower than the mean depth of krill patches, but were similar in total krill abundance and overall size. The diving depth of murres within krill patches was highly correlated to the depth of the upper edge of these patches, whereas murres found outside of krill patches showed a depth distribution similar to that of juvenile pollock. Throughout the study area, murres showed strong diel patterns in their diving behavior in response to the diel migrations of their prey. These results suggest that murres select prey with specific patch characteristics implying effective information gathering about prey by murres. The high proportion of diving murres in aggregations and their consistent inter-individual spacing support the hypothesis that intra-specific local enhancement may facilitate foraging in these predators.

KEY WORDS: Foraging · Seabirds · Predator−prey · Acoustics

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Cite this article as: Benoit-Bird KJ, Kuletz K, Heppell S, Jones N, Hoover B (2011) Active acoustic examination of the diving behavior of murres foraging on patchy prey. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 443:217-235.

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