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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Ecological niche partitioning in two Pacific puffins

Akiko Shoji*, Shannon Whelan, Joshua T. Cunningham, Scott A. Hatch, Yasuaki Niizuma, Chinatsu Nakajima, Kyle H. Elliott

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Ecological theory predicts that closely related species can coexist if they segregate in space, time, or diet to reduce competitive overlap when resources are limited. Those differences in ecological niche presumably driven by concomitant differences in morphology. The link between form and functional segregation may only occur at one period of the year and while examining behavioural differences among closely related species across the whole annual cycle can answer this question, it is rarely tested. Here, we investigated niche partitioning between sister species within the puffin clade: tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) with high wing-loading and rhinoceros auklets (Cerorhinca monocerata) with low wing-loading, breeding in sympatry on Middleton Island, Alaska. We collected data for horizontal movement, dive depth and trophic ecology. High wing-loading tufted puffins dived deeper, foraged closer to the colony during breeding, and migrated shorter distances relative to rhinoceros auklets. Examination of allometric patterns further revealed that puffins exceeded the predicted dive duration limit with exceptionally long dives. However, isotopic niches of the two species were very similar. Rhinoceros auklet breeding phenology was about three weeks earlier than tufted puffin phenology and breeding success during the study period was always higher for auklets than puffins. We conclude that two species of sympatric puffin partitioned both in space and time throughout the annual cycle, illustrating how such partitioning can facilitate the coexistence of seabirds sharing apparently similar space.