, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 849-858
Date: 14 Dec 2013

The contribution of private and public information in foraging by Australasian gannets

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Predators that forage on foods with temporally and spatially patchy distributions may rely on private or public sources of information to enhance their chances of foraging success. Using GPS tracking, field observations, and videography, we examined potential sites and mechanisms of information acquisition in departures for foraging trips by colonially breeding Australasian gannets (Morus serrator). Analyses of the bill-fencing ceremony between mated pairs of breeding gannets did not detect correlations between parameters of this reciprocal behavior and foraging trips, as would have been predicted if gannets used this behavior as a source of private information. Instead, 60 % of the departing birds flew directly to join water rafts of other conspecific en route to the feeding grounds. The departure of solitary birds from the water rafts was synchronized (within 60 s) with the arrival of incoming foragers and also among departing birds. Furthermore, solitary departing birds from the rafts left in the same directional quadrant (90º slices) as the prior arriving (67 %) and also prior departing forager (79 %). When associated plunge dives of conspecific were visible from the colony, providing a public source of information, gannets more often departed from the water rafts in groups. Our study thus provides evidence for the use of water rafts, but not the nest site, as locations of information transfer, and also confirms the use of local enhancement as a strategy for foraging flights by Australasian gannets.