Northern gannets anticipate the spatio-temporal occurrence of their prey

  • Pettex E
  • Bonadonna F
  • Enstipp M
 et al. 
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Seabirds, as other marine top predators, are often assumed to forage in an unpredictable environment. We challenge this concept and test the hypothesis that breeding Northern gannets (Morus bassanus) anticipate the spatio-temporal occurrence of their prey in the English Channel. We analyzed 23 foraging tracks of Northern gannets breeding on Rouzic Island (Brittany) that were recorded using GPS loggers during 2 consecutive years. All birds commuted between the breeding colony and foraging areas located at a mean distance of 85 km and 72 km (in 2005 and 2006, respectively) from the colony. Mean linearity indices of the outbound and inbound trips were between 0.83 and 0.87, approaching a beeline path to and from the foraging area. Additional parameters (flight speed, and number and duration of stopovers at sea) for the outbound and inbound trip were not statistically different, indicating that birds are capable of locating these feeding areas in the absence of visual clues, and to pin-point their breeding site when returning from the sea. Our bearing choice analysis also revealed that gannets anticipate the general direction of their foraging area during the first 30 min and the first 10 km of the trip. These results strongly suggest that birds anticipate prey location, rather than head into a random direction until encountering a profitable area. Further investigations are necessary to identify the mechanisms involved in seabird resource localization, such as sensorial abilities, memory effects, public information or a combination of these factors.

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  • E. Pettex

  • F. Bonadonna

  • M. R. Enstipp

  • F. Siorat

  • D. Gremillet

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