Relationship between reversed sexual dimorphism, breeding investment and foraging ecology in a pelagic seabird, the masked booby
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- Weimerskirch, H., Le Corre, M., Gadenne, H. et al. Oecologia (2009) 161: 637. doi:10.1007/s00442-009-1397-7
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Reversed sexual dimorphism (RSD) may be related to different roles in breeding investment and/or foraging, but little information is available on foraging ecology. We studied the foraging behaviour and parental investment by male and female masked boobies, a species with RSD, by combining studies of foraging ecology using miniaturised activity and GPS data loggers of nest attendance, with an experimental study where flight costs were increased. Males attended the chick more often than females, but females provided more food to the chick than males. Males and females foraged during similar periods of the day, had similar prey types and sizes, diving depths, durations of foraging trips, foraging zones and ranges. Females spent a smaller proportion of the foraging trip sitting on the water and had higher diving rate than males, suggesting higher foraging effort by females. In females, trip duration correlated with mass at departure, suggesting a flexible investment through control by body mass. The experimental study showed that handicapped females and female partners of handicapped males lost mass compared to control birds, whereas there was no difference for males. These results indicate that the larger female is the main provisioner of the chick in the pair, and regulates breeding effort in relation to its own body mass, whereas males have a fixed investment. The different breeding investment between the sexes is associated with contrasting foraging strategies, but no clear niche differentiation was observed. The larger size of the females may be advantageous for provisioning the chick with large quantities of energy and for flexible breeding effort, while the smaller male invests in territory defence and nest guarding, a crucial task when breeding at high densities. In masked boobies, division of labour appears to be maximal during chick rearing—the most energy-demanding period—and may be related to evolution of RSD.