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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Relative roles of static and dynamic abiotic conditions as drivers of foraging behaviour in breeding Sandwich Terns

Ruben C. Fijn*, Chris B. Thaxter, Geert Aarts, Jeroen Adema, Robert P. Middelveld, Rob S. A. van Bemmelen

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Where and when animals forage depends on the spatio-temporal distribution and catchability of prey. In dynamic environments, animals could repeatedly target areas that provide predictable availability of prey or may search for ephemeral conditions of high prey availability. However, how foraging behaviour is initiated in response to static versus dynamic environmental conditions is difficult to study data on abiotics are often lacking. In this study, central-place foraging Sandwich Terns were tracked using GPS-loggers during foraging. Using Hidden Markov Models, the probability of switching between transit and foraging was shown to be most strongly affected by the static variable sediment type. Wave period (a dynamic variable related to weather), salinity (a spatially changing variable) and water depth (another static variable) affected the transition probability to a lesser extent. Cloud cover, wind speed and current speed were only included in lower ranked models. Air and water temperature were not included in any model. Consistent with the greater importance of static versus dynamic abiotic conditions, consistency between foraging trips of the same individual varied irrespective of tidal, diurnal or seasonal cycles although trips close in time in the season were slightly more similar than trips with a larger time gap. We suggest that Sandwich Terns target broad areas with coarser sediments where sandeel (Ammodytidae spp.) are more common, and that weather variables may be related to prey visibility. Our study suggests that, even in highly dynamic environments, static environmental variables may more strongly affect foraging behaviour of coastal seabirds than dynamic variables.