Taking movement data to new depths: Inferring prey availability and patch profitability from seabird foraging behavior

Marianna Chimienti, Thomas Cornulier, Ellie Owen, Mark Bolton, Ian M. Davies, Justin M J Travis, Beth E Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Detailed information acquired using tracking technology has the potential to provide accurate pictures of the types of movements and behaviors performed by animals. To date, such data have not been widely exploited to provide inferred information about the foraging habitat. We collected data using multiple sensors (GPS, time depth recorders, and accelerometers) from two species of diving seabirds, razorbills (Alca torda, N = 5, from Fair Isle, UK) and common guillemots (Uria aalge, N = 2 from Fair Isle and N = 2 from Colonsay, UK). We used a clustering algorithm to identify pursuit and catching events and the time spent pursuing and catching underwater, which we then used as indicators for inferring prey encounters throughout the water column and responses to changes in prey availability of the areas visited at two levels: individual dives and groups of dives. For each individual dive (N = 661 for guillemots, 6214 for razorbills), we modeled the number of pursuit and catching events, in relation to dive depth, duration, and type of dive performed (benthic vs. pelagic). For groups of dives (N = 58 for guillemots, 156 for razorbills), we modeled the total time spent pursuing and catching in relation to time spent underwater. Razorbills performed only pelagic dives, most likely exploiting prey available at shallow depths as indicated by the vertical distribution of pursuit and catching events. In contrast, guillemots were more flexible in their behavior, switching between benthic and pelagic dives. Capture attempt rates indicated that they were exploiting deep prey aggregations. The study highlights how novel analysis of movement data can give new insights into how animals exploit food patches, offering a unique opportunity to comprehend the behavioral ecology behind different movement patterns and understand how animals might respond to changes in prey distributions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10252-10265
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number23
Early online date25 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Funded byNatural Environment Research Council. Grant Number: NE/K007440/1 and Marine Scotland Science and Seabird Tracking and Research (STAR) Project led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)


  • animal movements
  • foraging strategies
  • patch profitability
  • predators
  • prey
  • availability


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