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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Intra- and inter-annual shifts in foraging tactics by parental northern gannets Morus bassanus indicate changing prey fields

Kyle J. N. d’Entremont*, Gail K. Davoren, Carolyn J. Walsh, Sabina I. Wilhelm, William A. Montevecchi

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Seabirds are constrained by central-place foraging during breeding, when the energy obtained from prey must outweigh the costs of travel, search, capture and transport. The distribution and phenology of the cold-blooded marine fishes they exploit are heavily influenced by oceanic climate. Northern gannets, the largest breeding seabird in the North Atlantic, use a generalist foraging strategy, preying on a wide array of pelagic fishes. They employ different foraging tactics for different prey types, with rapid shallow V-shaped dives used for large, powerful prey such as mackerel, and U-shaped dives for smaller forage fishes like capelin. Here we assess intra- and inter-annual differences in foraging effort and influences of prey availability at the species’ southernmost colony at Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland, Canada. We compared foraging trip characteristics (total and maximum distance, directness, duration, and number of dives) of parental gannets during the breeding seasons of 2019 (n = 10) and 2020 (n = 7) using GPS/time-depth recorders. Individual gannets shifted away from using U-dives in early chick-rearing to primarily V-dives in late chick-rearing. Shifts were abrupt and occurred in mid-August in 2019 and 2020. Maximum and total foraging trip distance and duration were significantly greater during early chick-rearing in 2020 than in 2019. Kernel density 50% utilization distributions were larger and expanded further from the colony during early chick-rearing in 2020 (7297 ± 1419 km2) than 2019 (2382 ±797 km2). Increased foraging effort during early chick-rearing in 2020 was likely due to decreased capelin availability, resulting from earlier spawning, and greater variation in the timing of spawning among sites, which may have been influenced by warmer waters.