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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13095

Variability in at-sea foraging behaviour of little penguins Eudyptula minor in response to fine-scale environmental features

Lachlan R. Phillips*, Mark Hindell, Alistair J. Hobday, Mary-Anne Lea

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: A long-standing question in ecology is how predators interact with their environment when locating patchily distributed prey. There is some evidence to suggest that marine predators use environmental features as foraging cues at meso-scales (100–1000 km), however the role of environmental structure at finer scales (1–100 km) is less well understood. To investigate how marine predators respond to fine-scale environmental variability, the movement patterns of 29 GPS-tagged little penguins from 3 colonies in the highly variable Storm Bay ecosystem in south-eastern Tasmania were analysed using hidden Markov behavioural state modelling alongside high-resolution environmental data. Variability in at-sea behavioural states was observed between colonies correlating with differences in fine-scale environmental parameters. There were significant differences in trip metrics and time spent in each of the identified behavioural states between each of the study colonies. Additionally, transitions between behavioural states were associated with different environmental parameters at each site. This variability in foraging behaviour for conspecifics at similar temporal scales illustrates the significance of fine-scale environmental variability in determining at-sea predator behaviour and highlights how even subtle differences in fine-scale environmental parameters can lead to alternative foraging strategies. This flexibility suggests a capacity to behaviourally adapt to variable and changing environmental conditions, a necessary condition for persistence in a changing world.