Interspecific and intraspecific foraging differentiation of neighbouring tropical seabirds

R. E. Austin, F. De Pascalis, S. C. Votier, J. Haakonsson, J. P. Y. Arnould, G. Ebanks-Petrie, J. Newton, J. Harvey, J. A. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
44 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Social interactions, reproductive demands and intrinsic constraints all influence foraging decisions in animals. Understanding the relative importance of these factors in shaping the way that coexisting species within communities use and partition resources is central to knowledge of ecological and evolutionary processes. However, in marine environments, our understanding of the mechanisms that lead to and allow coexistence is limited, particularly in the tropics.

Methods: Using simultaneous data from a suite of animal-borne data loggers (GPS, depth recorders, immersion and video), dietary samples and stable isotopes, we investigated interspecific and intraspecific differences in foraging of two closely-related seabird species (the red-footed booby and brown booby) from neighbouring colonies on the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean.

Results: The two species employed notably different foraging strategies, with marked spatial segregation, but limited evidence of interspecific dietary partitioning. The larger-bodied brown booby foraged within neritic waters, with the smaller-bodied red-footed booby travelling further offshore. Almost no sex differences were detected in foraging behaviour of red-footed boobies, while male and female brown boobies differed in their habitat use, foraging characteristics and dietary contributions. We suggest that these behavioural differences may relate to size dimorphism and competition: In the small brown booby population (n < 200 individuals), larger females showed a higher propensity to remain in coastal waters where they experienced kleptoparasitic attacks from magnificent frigatebirds, while smaller males that were never kleptoparasitised travelled further offshore, presumably into habitats with lower kleptoparasitic pressure. In weakly dimorphic red-footed boobies, these differences are less pronounced. Instead, density-dependent pressures on their large population (n > 2000 individuals) and avoidance of kleptoparasitism may be more prevalent in driving movements for both sexes.

Conclusions: Our results reveal how, in an environment where opportunities for prey diversification are limited, neighbouring seabird species segregate at-sea, while exhibiting differing degrees of sexual differentiation. While the mechanisms underlying observed patterns remain unclear, our data are consistent with the idea that multiple factors involving both conspecifics and heterospecifics, as well as reproductive pressures, may combine to influence foraging differences in these neighbouring tropical species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number27
JournalMovement Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2021


  • Brown booby
  • Competition
  • Foraging ecology
  • Red-footed booby
  • Resource partitioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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