Multi-colony tracking reveals segregation in foraging range, space use, and timing in a tropical seabird

Alice M. Trevail, Hannah Wood, Peter Carr, Ruth E. Dunn, Malcolm A. Nicoll, Stephen C. Votier, Robin Freeman

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Colonial animals experience density-dependent competition for food, which is posited to influence foraging range and lead to inter-colony segregation. However, such patterns are poorly studied in the tropics, where predictable day lengths, oligotrophic conditions, and facultative foraging may alter the relationships between foraging and intra-specific competition. Here, we GPS-tracked 207 breeding red-footed boobies Sula sula rubripes (RFB) from 4 neighbouring Chagos Archipelago colonies (~1100 to 9200 breeding pairs) in the central Indian Ocean, to determine how foraging strategies (i.e. effort, segregation, and timing) vary with colony, while accounting for sex, monsoon season, stage of reproduction, year, and individual. During incubation and chick-rearing, RFBs commute to pelagic foraging grounds (maximum distance mean ± SE: 112.9 ± 3.7 km; total distance: 298.4 ± 6.2 km) over 1 to 5 d (18.5 ± 1.6 h). Foraging effort was highest at the largest colony, and greater among females than males. Departure angles varied among colonies, leading to foraging areas that were largely spatially segregated. Timing of departures and arrivals were strongly constrained by daylight hours, although females and birds at the largest colony left earliest. Our study highlights the importance of inter-colony differences in tropical seabird foraging, which may relate to different levels of intra-specific competition. Moreover, links between foraging times and colony size suggest a previously undescribed outcome of density-dependent competition, highlighting the importance of understanding colonial living across multiple dimensions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-165
Number of pages11
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2023


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