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Concept: Gannet


Most seabirds are very noisy at their breeding colonies, when aggregated in high densities. Calls are used for individual recognition and also emitted during agonistic interactions. When at sea, many seabirds aggregate over patchily distributed resources and may benefit from foraging in groups. Because these aggregations are so common, it raises the question of whether seabirds use acoustic communication when foraging at sea? We deployed video-cameras with built in microphones on 36 Cape gannets (Morus capensis) during the breeding season of 2010-2011 at Bird Island (Algoa Bay, South Africa) to study their foraging behaviour and vocal activity at sea. Group formation was derived from the camera footage. During ~42 h, calls were recorded on 72 occasions from 16 birds. Vocalization exclusively took place in the presence of conspecifics, and mostly in feeding aggregations (81% of the vocalizations). From the observation of the behaviours of birds associated with the emission of calls, we suggest that the calls were emitted to avoid collisions between birds. Our observations show that at least some seabirds use acoustic communication when foraging at sea. These findings open up new perspectives for research on seabirds foraging ecology and their interactions at sea.

Concepts: Bird, Albatross, Seabird, Sound, Foraging, Gannet, Gannets, Sulidae


Australasian gannets (Morus serrator), like many other seabird species, locate pelagic prey from the air and perform rapid plunge dives for their capture. Prey are captured underwater either in the momentum (M) phase of the dive while descending through the water column, or the wing flapping (WF) phase while moving, using the wings for propulsion. Detection of prey from the air is clearly visually guided, but it remains unknown whether plunge diving birds also use vision in the underwater phase of the dive. Here we address the question of whether gannets are capable of visually accommodating in the transition from aerial to aquatic vision, and analyse underwater video footage for evidence that gannets use vision in the aquatic phases of hunting. Photokeratometry and infrared video photorefraction revealed that, immediately upon submergence of the head, gannet eyes accommodate and overcome the loss of greater than 45 D (dioptres) of corneal refractive power which occurs in the transition between air and water. Analyses of underwater video showed the highest prey capture rates during WF phase when gannets actively pursue individual fish, a behaviour that very likely involves visual guidance, following the transition after the plunge dive’s M phase. This is to our knowledge the first demonstration of the capacity for visual accommodation underwater in a plunge diving bird while capturing submerged prey detected from the air.

Concepts: Seabird, Lens, Scuba diving, Gannet, Australasian Gannet, Gannets, Sulidae, Booby


Search behavior is often used as a proxy for foraging effort within studies of animal movement, despite it being only one part of the foraging process, which also includes prey capture. While methods for validating prey capture exist, many studies rely solely on behavioral annotation of animal movement data to identify search and infer prey capture attempts. However, the degree to which search correlates with prey capture is largely untested. This study applied seven behavioral annotation methods to identify search behavior from GPS tracks of northern gannets (Morus bassanus), and compared outputs to the occurrence of dives recorded by simultaneously deployed time-depth recorders. We tested how behavioral annotation methods vary in their ability to identify search behavior leading to dive events. There was considerable variation in the number of dives occurring within search areas across methods. Hidden Markov models proved to be the most successful, with 81% of all dives occurring within areas identified as search. k-Means clustering and first passage time had the highest rates of dives occurring outside identified search behavior. First passage time and hidden Markov models had the lowest rates of false positives, identifying fewer search areas with no dives. All behavioral annotation methods had advantages and drawbacks in terms of the complexity of analysis and ability to reflect prey capture events while minimizing the number of false positives and false negatives. We used these results, with consideration of analytical difficulty, to provide advice on the most appropriate methods for use where prey capture behavior is not available. This study highlights a need to critically assess and carefully choose a behavioral annotation method suitable for the research question being addressed, or resulting species management frameworks established.

Concepts: Psychology, Critical thinking, Statistics, Behavior, Human behavior, Behaviorism, Social relation, Gannet


The study of ecological and behavioral processes has been revolutionized in the last two decades with the rapid development of biologging-science. Recently, using image-capturing devices, some pilot studies demonstrated the potential of understanding marine vertebrate movement patterns in relation to their proximate, as opposed to remote sensed environmental contexts. Here, using miniaturized video cameras and GPS tracking recorders simultaneously, we show for the first time that information on the immediate visual surroundings of a foraging seabird, the Cape gannet, is fundamental in understanding the origins of its movement patterns. We found that movement patterns were related to specific stimuli which were mostly other predators such as gannets, dolphins or fishing boats. Contrary to a widely accepted idea, our data suggest that foraging seabirds are not directly looking for prey. Instead, they search for indicators of the presence of prey, the latter being targeted at the very last moment and at a very small scale. We demonstrate that movement patterns of foraging seabirds can be heavily driven by processes unobservable with conventional methodology. Except perhaps for large scale processes, local-enhancement seems to be the only ruling mechanism; this has profounds implications for ecosystem-based management of marine areas.

Concepts: Predation, Ecology, Seabird, Gannet, Gannets, Sulidae, Booby, Seabirds


Marine plastic pollution is an increasing, and global, environmental issue. Numerous marine species are affected by plastic debris through entanglement, nest incorporation, and ingestion, which can lead to lethal and sub-lethal impacts. However, in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, an area of international importance for seabirds, there has been little effort to date to assess information from studies of wildlife and plastic to better understand the spatiotemporal variation of how marine plastic affects different seabird species. To improve our understanding of seabirds and marine plastic in this region, we completed a synthesis of the published and grey literature to obtain information on all known documented cases of plastic ingestion and nest incorporation by this group. We found that of 69 seabird species that commonly occur in the northeastern Atlantic, 25 had evidence of ingesting plastic. However, data on plastic ingestion was available for only 49% of all species, with 74% of investigated species recorded ingesting plastic. We found only three published studies on nest incorporation, for the Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) and Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla). For many species, sample sizes were small or not reported, and only 39% of studies were from the 21st century, whilst information from multiple countries and years was only available for 11 species. This indicates that we actually know very little about the current prevalence of plastic ingestion and nest incorporation for many species, several of them globally threatened. Furthermore, in the majority of studies, the metrics reported were inadequate to carry out robust comparisons among locations and species or perform meta-analyses. We recommend multi-jurisdictional collaboration to obtain a more comprehensive and current understanding of how marine plastic is affecting seabirds in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Albatross, Seabird, Marine debris, Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Gannet, Runde


Exploitation of the seas is currently unsustainable, with increasing demand for marine resources placing intense pressure on the Earth’s largest ecosystem [1]. The scale of anthropogenic effects varies from local to entire ocean basins [1-3]. For example, discards of commercial capture fisheries can have both positive and negative impacts on scavengers at the population and community-level [2-6], although this is driven by individual foraging behaviour [3,7]. Currently, we have little understanding of the scale at which individual animals initiate such behaviours. We use the known interaction between fisheries and a wide-ranging seabird, the Northern gannet Morus bassanus[3], to investigate how fishing vessels affect individual birds' behaviours in near real-time. We document the footprint of fishing vessels' (≥15 m length) influence on foraging decisions (≤11 km), and a potential underlying behavioural mechanism, by revealing how birds respond differently to vessels depending on gear type and activity. Such influences have important implications for fisheries, including the proposed discard ban [8]), and wider marine management.

Concepts: Psychology, Ecology, Seabird, Behavior, Human behavior, Sustainability, Gannet, Sulidae


During the breeding season, seabirds adopt a central place foraging strategy and are restricted in their foraging range by the fasting ability of their partner/chick and the cost of commuting between the prey resources and the nest. Because of the spatial and temporal variability of marine ecosystems, individuals must adapt their behaviour to increase foraging success within these constraints. The at-sea movements, foraging behaviour and effort of the Australasian gannet (Morus serrator) was determined over three sequential breeding seasons of apparent differing prey abundance to investigate how the species adapts to inter-annual fluctuations in food availability. GPS and tri-axial accelerometer data loggers were used to compare the degree of annual variation within two stages of breeding (incubation and chick rearing) at a small gannet colony situated between two larger, nearby colonies. Interestingly, neither males nor females increased the total distance travelled or duration of foraging trip in any breeding stage (P>0.05 in all cases) despite apparent low prey availability. However, consistently within each breeding stage, mean vectorial dynamic body acceleration (an index of energy expenditure) was greater in years of poorer breeding success (increased by a factor of three to eight), suggesting birds were working harder within their range. Additionally, both males and females increased the proportion of a foraging trip spent foraging in a poorer year across both breeding stages. Individuals from this colony may be limited in their ability to extend their range in years of low prey availability due to competition from conspecifics in nearby colonies and, consequently, increase foraging effort within this restricted foraging area.

Concepts: Reproduction, Seabird, Breeding season, Optimal foraging theory, Foraging, Gannet, Australasian Gannet, Gannets


The oceanographic drivers of marine vertebrate habitat use are poorly understood yet fundamental to our knowledge of marine ecosystem functioning. Here, we use composite front mapping and high-resolution GPS tracking to determine the significance of mesoscale oceanographic fronts as physical drivers of foraging habitat selection in northern gannets Morus bassanus. We tracked 66 breeding gannets from a Celtic Sea colony over 2 years and used residence time to identify area-restricted search (ARS) behaviour. Composite front maps identified thermal and chlorophyll-a mesoscale fronts at two different temporal scales-(i) contemporaneous fronts and (ii) seasonally persistent frontal zones. Using generalized additive models (GAMs), with generalized estimating equations (GEE-GAMs) to account for serial autocorrelation in tracking data, we found that gannets do not adjust their behaviour in response to contemporaneous fronts. However, ARS was more likely to occur within spatially predictable, seasonally persistent frontal zones (GAMs). Our results provide proof of concept that composite front mapping is a useful tool for studying the influence of oceanographic features on animal movements. Moreover, we highlight that frontal persistence is a crucial element of the formation of pelagic foraging hotspots for mobile marine vertebrates.

Concepts: Regression analysis, Oceanography, Seabird, Ocean, Marine biology, Gannet, Northern Gannet, Bass Rock


Devices attached to flying birds can hugely enhance our understanding of their behavioural ecology for periods when they cannot be observed directly. For this, scientists routinely attach units to either birds' backs or their tails. However, inappropriate payload distribution is critical in aircraft and, since birds and planes are subject to the same laws of physics during flight, we considered aircraft aerodynamic constraints to explain flight patterns displayed by northern gannets Sula bassana equipped with (small ca. 14 g) tail- and back-mounted accelerometers and (larger ca. 30 g) tail-mounted GPS units. Tail-mounted GPS-fitted birds showed significantly higher cumulative numbers of flap-glide cycles and a higher pitch angle of the tail than accelerometer-equipped birds, indicating problems with balancing inappropriately placed weights with knock-on consequences relating to energy expenditure. These problems can be addressed by carefully choosing where to place tags on birds according to the mass of the tags and the lifestyle of the subject species.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Philosophy of science, Seabird, Immanuel Kant, Fixed-wing aircraft, Gannet, Northern Gannet


The quantification of entanglements of megafauna with plastic debris at sea is difficult to assess for several reasons, such as detection and reporting biases. We used standardized vessel based counts to describe and quantify the occurrence of marine debris entanglements in northern gannets Morus bassanus at five of its main wintering areas. We observed 34 entangled birds in total, representing 0.93% of all gannets counted (n=3672 individuals). The incidence of entanglements largely varied geographically, being exceptionally high off Mauritania (20.2% of the birds in late spring). Most birds affected were immature (1.88% compared to 0.06% in adults), which in turn represented 52.4% of all the birds. Entanglements in the lower bill mandible were the most frequent, mainly with red-colored plastic objects. Further research is urgently needed to evaluate the impact of entanglements at the population level and its occurrence in other marine species, and to seek potential solutions.

Concepts: Seabird, Plastic, Sea, Ocean, Marine debris, Gannet, Northern Gannet, Bass Rock