Prions Pachyptila are the most abundant seabirds in the Southern Ocean and comprise two main groups: those with and without bill lamellae to filter zooplankton. With few exceptions, each breeding location supports at most one species from each of these groups. However, Gough Island supports two morphologically very similar, filter-feeding species: broad-billed P. vittata and MacGillivray’s prions P. macgillivrayi. To understand how these two species co-occur in sympatry, we compared the foraging ranges, habitat selectivity, trophic segregation and moult schedules of these species using combined geolocation-immersion loggers. After breeding, both species showed a well-defined westward migration prior to moulting. Moult lasted 11–19 weeks and was significantly longer in MacGillivray’s than broad-billed prions. Moulting birds occurred in specific areas within the Argentine Basin, with little overlap between the two species. Habitat analysis revealed species-specific preferences, in particular sea surface temperature. Activity patterns also differed; MacGillivray’s prions spent more time in flight, which indicates a more active foraging strategy, relying less on filter feeding. Stable isotope ratios (δ15N) in flight feathers were greater in MacGillivray’s prion, which is consistent with its less specialized bill morphology resulting in feeding at a higher trophic level. Inter-specific spatial segregation was observed for most of the tracking period, in large part because broad-billed prions breed roughly 3 months earlier than MacGillivray’s prions. At Tristan da Cunha, 250 km farther north, where only broad-billed prions breed, they departed, moulted and returned significantly later (15–17 days) than conspecifics from Gough Island, providing evidence for character displacement in sympatry with MacGillivray’s prion.
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For assistance in the field, we thank Alex Bond, Jan Bradley, Delia Davies, Ben Dilley, Bruce Dyer, Derren Fox, David Kinchin-Smith, Werner Kuntz, Alexis Osborne, Michelle Risi, Chris Taylor and Emma Witcutt. For laboratory work, we thank Laurie Johnson for preparing feathers for isotopic analysis and Ian Newton from UCT’s Stable Isotope Unit for analysis of feather samples. Thank you to Steffen Oppel for assistance with analysing the representativeness of the tracking data. Logistical and financial support was provided by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, through the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP), the National Research Foundation (South Africa) through the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology (University of Cape Town), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Natural Environment Research Council (Ref. NE/R0001017/1). The Tristan da Cunha Government provided permission to work at Gough Island.
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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
The Science Animal Ethics Committee (SFAEC) of the University of Cape Town approved the research protocols for this study (protocol number 2014/V10/PR) as part of a larger project entitled, “Population dynamics and conservation of Southern Ocean albatrosses and petrels”. Field procedures, i.e., deployments of similarly sized devices on other prion species, have been approved by the Animal Ethics Committees of the British Antarctic Survey.
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Jones, C.W., Phillips, R.A., Grecian, W.J. et al. Ecological segregation of two superabundant, morphologically similar, sister seabird taxa breeding in sympatry. Mar Biol 167, 45 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-020-3645-7