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Concept: Sulidae


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


The population of Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo has increased markedly in Europe in the last 30 years, creating conflicts primarily with fisheries interests. Some advocate that there should be a reduction in bird numbers on anything from local to regional and pan-European levels. The effect of attempts to reduce cormorant numbers by shooting to kill and by shooting to reinforce the scaring of birds in two Danish fjords was studied.

Concepts: Bird, Seabird, Penguin, Cormorant, Pelican, Sulidae, Great Cormorant, Pelecaniformes


In nature, several seabirds (e.g., gannets and boobies) dive into water at up to 24 m/s as a hunting mechanism; furthermore, gannets and boobies have a slender neck, which is potentially the weakest part of the body under compression during high-speed impact. In this work, we investigate the stability of the bird’s neck during plunge-diving by understanding the interaction between the fluid forces acting on the head and the flexibility of the neck. First, we use a salvaged bird to identify plunge-diving phases. Anatomical features of the skull and neck were acquired to quantify the effect of beak geometry and neck musculature on the stability during a plunge-dive. Second, physical experiments using an elastic beam as a model for the neck attached to a skull-like cone revealed the limits for the stability of the neck during the bird’s dive as a function of impact velocity and geometric factors. We find that the neck length, neck muscles, and diving speed of the bird predominantly reduce the likelihood of injury during the plunge-dive. Finally, we use our results to discuss maximum diving speeds for humans to avoid injury.

Concepts: Muscle, Geometry, Muscular system, Seabird, Human anatomy, Velocity, Speed, Sulidae


Prolonged pair bonds have the potential to improve reproductive performance of socially monogamous animals by increasing pair familiarity and enhancing coordination and cooperation between pair members. However, this has proved very difficult to test robustly because of important confounds such as age and reproductive experience. Here, we address limitations of previous studies and provide a rigorous test of the mate familiarity effect in the socially monogamous blue-footed booby, Sula nebouxii, a long-lived marine bird with a high divorce rate. Taking advantage of a natural disassociation between age and pair bond duration in this species, and applying a novel analytical approach to a 24 year database, we found that those pairs which have been together for longer establish their clutches five weeks earlier in the season, hatch more of their eggs and produce 35% more fledglings, regardless of age and reproductive experience. Our results demonstrate that pair bond duration increases individual fitness and further suggest that synergistic effects between a male and female’s behaviour are likely to be involved in generating a mate familiarity effect. These findings help to explain the age- and experience-independent benefits of remating and their role in life-history evolution.

Concepts: Male, Seabird, Divorce, Sulidae, Sula, Boobies, Blue-footed Booby, Pelecaniformes


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


It is widely expected that the quality of offspring will vary with the age of their parents and that this variation should influence animals' choice of mates. However, theoretical predictions for age effects are contradictory and, to our knowledge, we do not know for any wild animal how the quality of offspring is affected by both parents' ages across their lifespans, or whether mothers' and fathers' ages interact. We tackled this question using long-term data on a highly philopatric, insular population of the blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii). In this species extra-pair paternity is most common in pairs of two young parents or two old parents, implying that these age combinations might prejudice offspring quality. Analysis of the viability of 3,361 offspring of parents up to 21 years old revealed that fledglings with two young parents or two old parents were least likely to become breeders, whereas fledglings with one young parent and one old parent were most likely to do so. For young parents of either sex, offspring viability increased with age of the other parent; for very old parents, it decreased. These effects could be mediated by parents flexibly modifying their investment in offspring in response to their own and their partners´ ages, but evidence for this was lacking. In 5,343 breeding attempts, although mothers' and fathers' ages independently affected four heavily care-dependent breeding traits at the clutch and nestling stages, their interaction did not affect any trait. The effects of parental age combinations on viability could also be mediated by genes: fledglings with one young parent and one old parent could benefit from greater heterozygosity or better genes.

Concepts: Parent, Mother, Father, Offspring, Sulidae, Sula, Boobies, Blue-footed Booby


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


Plastic pollution has been the subject of much research in the last decade. Seabirds can mistake plastic fragments for prey, which can perforate or block the digestive tract and cause ulcers. Most commonly, seabirds accumulate this indigestible matter in their stomachs, obtaining no nutrition and may die from starvation. Certain species of seabirds however, have the ability of regurgitating indigestible matter in the form of pellets. This study aimed to investigate the ingestion of plastics by live seabirds through the examination of regurgitated pellets (n=92) from a Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) breeding colony and a winter roost in Ireland. Plastic prevalence was consistently 3.2% at both sites. The presence of plastic litter highlights the fact that all species of seabird are susceptible to interact with marine litter regardless of feeding habits, although at different rates. More research is needed to understand the driving factors involved in plastic ingestion among different species.

Concepts: Bird, Seabird, Penguin, Cormorant, Sulidae, Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax, Spectacled Cormorant


Identifying associations between phenotypes and environmental parameters is crucial for understanding how natural selection acts at the individual level. In this context, genetically isolated populations can be useful models for identifying the forces selecting fitness-related traits. Here, we use a comprehensive dataset on a genetically and ecologically isolated population of the strictly marine bird, the brown booby Sula leucogaster, at the tropical and remote Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago, mid-Atlantic Ocean, in order to detect phenotypic adjustments from interindividual differences in diet, foraging behaviour, and nest quality. For this, we took biometrics of all individuals of the colony breeding in 2014 and 2015 and tested their associations with nest quality, diet parameters, and foraging behaviour. While body size was not related to the foraging parameters, the body size of the females (responsible for nest acquisition and defence) was significantly associated with the nest quality, as larger females occupied high-quality nests. Our findings suggest that the small breeding area, rather than prey availability, is a limiting factor, emphasizing the role of on-land features in shaping phenotypic characteristics and fitness in land-dependent marine vertebrates.

Concepts: Gene, Natural selection, Evolution, Bird, Seabird, Bird nest, Sulidae, Boobies