CIE Spotlight: Departure time influences foraging associations in little penguins

AuthorsGrace J. Sutton , Andrew J. Hoskins, Maud Berlincourt, John P. Y. Arnould

Source: PLOS ONE

Brief summary of the paper: Recent studies have documented that little penguins (Eudyptula minor) associate at sea, displaying synchronised diving behaviour throughout a foraging trip. However, previous observations were limited to a single foraging trip where only a small number of individuals were simultaneously tracked. Consequently, it is not known whether coordinated behaviour is consistent over time, or what factors influence it.

In the present study, breeding adults were concurrently instrumented with GPS and dive behaviour data loggers for at least 2 consecutive foraging trips during guard and post-guard stage at two breeding colonies (London Bridge and Gabo Island, south-eastern Australia) of contrasting population size (approximately 100 and 30,000–40,000, respectively). At both colonies, individuals were sampled in areas of comparable nesting density and spatial area. At London Bridge, where individuals use a short (23 m) common pathway from their nests to the shoreline, > 90% (n = 42) of birds displayed foraging associations and 53–60% (n = 20) maintained temporally consistent associations with the same conspecifics. Neither intrinsic (sex, size or body condition) nor extrinsic (nest proximity) factors were found to influence foraging associations. However, individuals that departed from the colony at a similar time were more likely to associate during a foraging trip. At Gabo Island, where individuals use a longer (116 m) pathway with numerous tributaries to reach the shoreline, few individuals (< 31%; n = 13) from neighbouring nests associated at sea and only 1% (n = 1) maintained associations over subsequent trips.

However, data from animal-borne video cameras indicated individuals at this colony displayed foraging associations of similar group size to those at London Bridge. This study reveals that group foraging behaviour occurs at multiple colonies and the pathways these individuals traverse with conspecifics may facilitate opportunistic group formation and resulting in foraging associations irrespective of nesting proximity and other factors.