CIE Spotlight: Pronounced inter-colony variation in the foraging ecology of Australasian gannets: influence of habitat differences

australasian-gannetsAuthors: Lauren P. Angel, Maud Berlincourt, John P. Y. Arnould

Source: Marine Ecology Progress Series, V. 556, P. 261-272 (published online: September 08, 2016)

Brief summary of the paper: The predictability of prey due to oceanographic features can result in large aggregations of apex predators. Central place foragers, such as seabirds, are limited in their foraging duration and range during the breeding period, which can restrict their ability to reach such locations.

Segregation by colony and sex can further restrict foraging range and may have direct implications for the foraging ecology of a species. In parts of its range, the Australasian gannet Morus serrator breeds in colonies of relatively close proximity and has recently been found to display sexual dimorphism.

Two neighbouring breeding colonies in Bass Strait that experience divergent environmental conditions were investigated to determine whether these conditions or the sex of the individual are important variables influencing foraging behaviour in this species.

GPS tracking and accelerometry were paired with stable isotope analysis to compare differences in foraging effort, habitat use and diet. Birds from Point Danger, a large colony located near a seasonally strong upwelling, travelled considerably further (77%) than birds from Pope’s Eye, a small colony in a nutrient-poor embayment.

However, within colonies no sexual differences in foraging effort were found. While the colonies did not overlap in foraging areas, a degree of sexual segregation was apparent within both colonies (Point Danger 46.3% overlap and Pope’s Eye 73.7% overlap in home range). Furthermore, stable isotope analysis indicated birds from each colony fed at different trophic niches.

This study reveals differences in habitat use and, consequently, dietary niches between and within neighbouring colonies.