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Foraging behaviour and diet of Brown boobies Sula leucogaster from Tinhosas Islands, Gulf of Guinea

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Abstract

Seabirds are a highly threatened group, yet the foraging ecology of several species remains poorly understood. Brown boobies breed in all oceans in the tropical region and are common across their range. In Tinhosa Grande (São Tomé and Príncipe), this species breeds in one of the largest colonies of seabirds in the east tropical Atlantic. We studied the foraging ecology of Brown boobies from this colony during the chick-rearing period. Thirty-three birds were tracked with GPS loggers and their diet was analysed from 11 regurgitations, using traditional and DNA barcoding techniques for prey identification. A total of 127 completed foraging trips were identified, 89% of which lasted less than 24 h. Females performed significantly longer trips and both sexes foraged preferentially over deep oceanic waters. The diet of Brown boobies included juvenile fish and squid (Sthenoteuthis pteropus), comprising mostly fish species whose juvenile phases live in the pelagic environment, and only migrate to coastal waters when adults. The most frequent of those prey found was Flying gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans). The relevance of such prey shows that Brown booby conservation depends not only on the management of their foraging areas and breeding sites but also on the correct management of the coastal adjacent areas that support the adult individuals of some of their prey. Our results suggest that the areas closest to the colony do not have available resources for these birds to feed on and that Brown boobies may be associate with subsurface marine predators or with sargassum patches to forage.

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Data availability

The tracking data generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available in Birdlife Seabird Tracking Database (http://www.seabirdtracking.org/).

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Príncipe Regional Government for permission to conduct research at Tinhosas Grande, and the Príncipe Coast Guard for their assistance with transportation. Thanks are due for financial support to CESAM (UIDB/50017/2020 and UIDP/50017/2020), MARE (UIDB/04292/2020 and UIDP/04292/2020) by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT; Portugal). Fieldwork was carried out with Fauna & Flora International and Fundação Príncipe under the auspices of the project “Establishing a network of marine protected areas across São Tomé and Príncipe through a co-management approach” with funding from The Blue Action Fund and Arcadia – a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing. We are grateful to João Leite (Parque Natural do Príncipe), Ayres Pedronho and Maya dos Santos (Fundação Príncipe) for assistance with fieldwork and to Armando Almeida for laboratory guidance.We thank Steffen Oppel and two anonymous referees for providing helpful comments on the manuscript.

Funding

This work was financially supported by CESAM (UIDB/50017/2020 and UIDP/50017/2020), MARE (UIDB/04292/2020 and UIDP/04292/2020) by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT; Portugal). Fieldwork was carried out with Fauna & Flora International and Fundação Príncipe under the auspices of the project “Establishing a network of marine protected areas across São Tomé and Príncipe through a co-management approach” with funding from The Blue Action Fund and Arcadia—a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing.

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The tracking was approved by the government of Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe; bird ringing was performed under the permit 50/2019 (ICNF) and permission to carry out procedures in animals was granted to JPG by Direcção Geral de Alimentação e Veterinária, Portugal (Ref: 0421).

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Correia, E., Catry, P., Sinclair, F. et al. Foraging behaviour and diet of Brown boobies Sula leucogaster from Tinhosas Islands, Gulf of Guinea. Mar Biol 168, 91 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-021-03904-0

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