Modelling foraging movements of diving predators: A theoretical study exploring the effect of heterogeneous landscapes on foraging efficiency

Marianna Chimienti*, Kamil A. Bartoń, Beth E. Scott, Justin M J Travis, Beth Emily Scott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


Foraging in the marine environment presents particular challenges for air-breathing predators. Information about prey capture rates, the strategies that diving predators use to maximise prey encounter rates and foraging success are still largely unknown and difficult to observe. As well, with the growing awareness of potential climate change impacts and the increasing interest in the development of renewable sources it is unknown how the foraging activity of diving predators such as seabirds will respond to both the presence of underwater structures and the potential corresponding changes in prey distributions. Motivated by this issue we developed a theoretical model to gain general understanding of how the foraging efficiency of diving predators may vary according to landscape structure and foraging strategy. Our theoretical model highlights that animal movements, intervals between prey capture and foraging efficiency are likely to critically depend on the distribution of the prey resource and the size and distribution of introduced underwater structures. For multiple prey loaders, changes in prey distribution affected the searching time necessary to catch a set amount of prey which in turn affected the foraging efficiency. The spatial aggregation of prey around small devices (~9×9 m) created a valuable habitat for a successful foraging activity resulting in shorter intervals between prey captures and higher foraging efficiency. The presence of large devices (~24×24 m) however represented an obstacle for predator movement, thus increasing the intervals between prey captures. In contrast, for single prey loaders the introduction of spatial aggregation of the resources did not represent an advantage suggesting that their foraging efficiency is more strongly affected by other factors such as the timing to find the first prey item which was found to occur faster in the presence of large devices. The development of this theoretical model represents a useful starting point to understand the energetic reasons for a range of potential predator responses to spatial heterogeneity and environmental uncertainties in terms of search behaviour and predator-prey interactions. We highlight future directions that integrated empiricaland modelling studies should take to improve our ability to predict how diving predators will be impacted by the deployment of manmade structures in the marine environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere544
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Animal movements
  • Foraging efficiency
  • Heterogeneous landscapes
  • Impacts
  • Marine renewable energies
  • Modelling


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