Prey capture and selection throughout the breeding season in a deep-diving generalist seabird, the thick-billed murre

Brisson-Curadeau, Émile; Elliott, Kyle

28 April 2019

Generalist seabirds forage on a variety of prey items providing the opportunity to monitor diverse aquatic fauna simultaneously. For example, the coupling of prey consumption rates and movement patterns of generalist seabirds might be used to create three-dimensional prey distribution maps (“preyscapes”) for multiple prey species in the same region. However, the complex interaction between generalist seabird foraging behaviour and the various prey types clouds the interpretation of such preyscapes, and the mechanisms underlying prey selection need to be understood before such an application can be realized. Central place foraging theory provides a theoretical model for understanding such selectivity by predicting that larger prey items should be (i) selected farther from the colony and (ii) for chick-feeding compared with self-feeding, but these predictions remain untested on most seabird species. Furthermore, rarely do we know how foraging features such as handling time, capture methods or choice of foraging location varies among prey types. We used three types of animal-borne biologgers (camera loggers, GPS and depth-loggers) to examine how a generalist Arctic seabird, the thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia), selects and captures their prey throughout the breeding season. Murres captured small prey at all phases of a dive, including while descending and ascending, but captured large fish mostly while ascending, with considerably longer handling times. Birds captured larger prey and dove deeper during chick-rearing. As central place foraging theory predicted, birds travelling further also brought bigger prey items for their chick. The location of a dive (distance from colony and distance to shore) best explained which prey type was the most likely to get caught in a dive, and we create a preyscape surrounding our study colony. We discuss how these findings might aid the use of generalist seabirds as bioindicators.