Sexual segregation in a wide-ranging marine predator is a consequence of habitat selection

Ian R. Cleasby*, Ewan D. Wakefield, Tom W. Bodey, Rachel D. Davies, Samantha C. Patrick, Jason Newton, Stephen C. Votier, Stuart Bearhop, Keith C. Hamer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


Sexual segregation, common in many species, is usually attributed to intra-specific competition or habitat choice. However, few studies have simultaneously quantified sex-specific foraging behaviour and habitat use. We combined movement, diving, stable isotope and oceanographic data to test whether sexual segregation in northern gannets Morus bassanus results from sex-specific habitat use. Breeding birds foraging in a seasonally stratified shelf sea were tracked over 3 consecutive breeding seasons (2010-2012). Females made longer trips, foraged farther offshore and had lower δ13C values than males. Male and female foraging areas overlapped only slightly. Males foraged more in mixed coastal waters, where net primary production (NPP) was relatively high (>3 mg C m-2 d-1) and sea-surface temperature (SST) was relatively low (<10°C). Males also tended to use areas with higher SSTs (>15°C) more than females, possibly as a consequence of foraging in productive mixed waters over offshore banks. Females foraged most frequently in stratified offshore waters, of intermediate SST (12-15°C), but exhibited no consistent response to NPP. Sex-specific differences in diving behaviour corresponded with differences in habitat use: males made more long and deep U-shaped dives. Such dives were characteristic of inshore foraging, whereas shorter and shallower V-shaped dives occurred more often in offshore waters. Heavier birds attained greater depths during V-shaped dives, but even when controlling for body mass, females made deeper V-shaped dives than males. Together, these results indicate that sexual segregation in gannets is driven largely by habitat segregation between mixed and stratified waters, which in turn results in sex-specific foraging behaviour and dive depths.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2015


  • Competition
  • Foraging behaviour
  • Morus bassanus
  • Northern gannet
  • Oceanography
  • Wildlife telemetry


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