Inter-colony movements, at-sea behaviour and foraging in an immature seabird: results from GPS-PPT tracking, radio-tracking and stable isotope analysis
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- Votier, S.C., Grecian, W.J., Patrick, S. et al. Mar Biol (2011) 158: 355. doi:10.1007/s00227-010-1563-9
Seabird populations contain large numbers of immatures––in some instances comprising >50% of the fully grown adults in the population. These birds are significant components of marine food webs and may contribute to compensatory recruitment and dispersal, but remain severely understudied. Here, we use GPS-PTTs, radio-tracking and analysis of stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes to investigate the movements and foraging ecology of immature seabirds. Our study focussed on immature northern gannets Morus bassanus aged 2–4 attending non-breeding aggregations alongside a large breeding colony. GPS-PTT tracking of five birds revealed that immatures have the ability to disperse widely during the breeding season, with some individuals potentially prospecting at other colonies. Overall, however, immatures were faithful to the colony of capture. During returns to the focal colony, immatures acted as central place foragers, conducted looping and commuting flights, and analysis of the variance in first-passage time revealed evidence of area-restricted search (ARS) behaviour. In addition, stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analyses indicate that immatures were isotopically segregated from breeders. Our findings provide insights into the foraging, prospecting and dispersal behaviour of immature seabirds, which may have important implications for understanding seabird ecology and conservation.