Behavioural plasticity in the early breeding season of pelagic seabirds : a case study of thin-billed prions from two oceans


Background: In long-lived seabirds that migrate large distances independently of each other, the early part of the breeding season is crucially important for a successful reproductive attempt. During this phase, pair bonds are re-established and partners coordinate their breeding duties. We studied the early breeding season in Thin-billed prions Pachyptila belcheri breeding in the Atlantic Ocean (Falkland/Malvinas Islands) and Indian Ocean (Kerguelen). Despite overlap in the wintering areas, these two populations exhibit differences in their timing and direction of migration. We hypothesised that these differences would influence behaviour during the early breeding season.Results: In line with our hypothesis, we found very strong differences in colony attendance patterns. Thin-billed prions of the Falkland population spent the late winter period over shelf waters close to the colony, first arrived back at the colony in September, and attended the nests interruptedly for one month, before departing on a pre-laying exodus. In contrast, Kerguelen birds remained in the non-breeding areas until mid-October and spent much less time attending the burrow before their pre-laying exodus. Despite this asynchronous arrival to the two colonies, the subsequent patterns resulted in remarkably synchronous incubation in both populations, with males taking on the first long incubation shift in late November, whereas females returned to sea soon after egg laying. During the pre-laying exodus and incubation, Thin-billed prions from the Falklands spread north over the Patagonian Shelf, while prions from Kerguelen travelled much further, reaching southern oceanic waters and moved at faster speeds (> 400 km per day). Although prions from Kerguelen moved much further, their isotopic niches were considerably narrower, suggesting a stronger dependence on Antarctic waters.Conclusions: The study thus suggests that Thin-billed prions show a high intraspecific plasticity in their use of either neritic or oceanic waters during the early breeding season. Breeding birds from the Falkland Islands can exploit an extensive shelf area, while Kerguelen birds have adapted to the need to forage in distant southern open waters. This difference in foraging ecology may thus have shaped the phenology of the early breeding phase.




Erstpublikation in

undefined (2019)




Erstpublikation in

Movement Ecology 7:1