, Volume 59, Issue 3, pp 381-388
Date: 29 Sep 2005

Extrinsic and intrinsic determinants of winter foraging and breeding phenology in a temperate seabird

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Abstract

In temperate regions, winter presents animals with a number of challenges including depressed food abundance, increased daily energy requirements, higher frequency of extreme weather events and shortened day length. Overcoming these constraints is critical for overwintering survival and scheduling of future breeding of long-lived species and is likely to be state dependent, associated with intrinsic abilities such as food acquisition rates. We examined the relationship between environmental and intrinsic factors on overwintering foraging and subsequent breeding phenology of the European shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis, a diurnal marine predator. We tested a range of hypotheses relating to overwintering foraging time and location. We found that individuals greatly increased their foraging time in winter to a peak of more than 90% of available daylight at the winter solstice. The seasonal patterns of foraging time appear to be driven by a combination of light levels and weather conditions and may be linked to the availability of the shag's principal prey, the lesser sandeel Ammodytes marinus. There was no evidence that shags dispersed south in winter to increase potential foraging time. Foraging time decreased after the winter solstice and, crucially, was correlated with subsequent breeding phenology, such that individuals that spent less time foraging in February bred earlier. The relationship was much stronger in females than males, in line with their more direct control of timing of breeding. Our results demonstrate that pre-breeding intrinsic foraging ability is critical in determining breeding phenology.

Communicated by Communicated by M. Leonard