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MEPS
Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 643:173-181 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13341

Tags below three percent of body mass increase nest abandonment by rhinoceros auklets, but handling impacts decline as breeding progresses

Alice Sun1, Shannon Whelan1,*, Scott A. Hatch2, Kyle H. Elliott1

1Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Ste Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec H9X 3V9, Canada
2Institute for Seabird Research and Conservation, Anchorage, Alaska 99516, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Biologging has revealed many of the mysteries surrounding seabird behavior far from land. However, tagging seabirds with biologgers may influence the very traits they are designed to observe. Such ‘tag effects’ are often argued to be minimal below a threshold of 3% of body mass. Nonetheless, few studies carefully separate handling from tagging effects, so the effect of tag size is often confounded with the effect of handling. Puffins, including rhinoceros auklets Cerorhinca monocerata, are notoriously difficult to work with due to high nest abandonment rates. To examine tagging and handling effects in rhinoceros auklets, we compared abandonment rates of individuals equipped with a GPS weighing ~2.3% of body mass with abandonment rates of birds handled but not equipped, and of birds not handled at all (controls). We used the egg flotation technique to estimate egg development and predict hatching date, thus allowing treatments to be applied at the appropriate time. Handling more than doubled abandonment rates compared to control birds, and tagging more than doubled abandonment rates compared to birds that were handled but not tagged. Abandonment rates decreased as incubation progressed and were lowest during chick-rearing. We conclude that both handling and tagging of auklets increase abandonment, and that effects are lowest during chick-rearing.


KEY WORDS: Biologging devices · Experiment · Tracking · Desertion · Egg flotation · Reproduction · Rhinoceros puffin


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Cite this article as: Sun A, Whelan S, Hatch SA, Elliott KH (2020) Tags below three percent of body mass increase nest abandonment by rhinoceros auklets, but handling impacts decline as breeding progresses. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 643:173-181. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13341

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