How Male and Female Little Auks Forage Differently Before Nesting

Greg Howard
19th April, 2024

How Male and Female Little Auks Forage Differently Before Nesting

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Study from the University of Gdańsk found that little auks, Arctic seabirds, have sex-specific foraging behaviors during pre-laying period
  • Female auks explored wider areas and performed shorter, shallower dives than males, possibly due to different nutritional needs for egg formation
  • Both male and female auks foraged in similar cold water areas as in other breeding phases but had wider home ranges during pre-laying compared to incubation
Understanding the behavior of seabirds during their breeding season is crucial for conservation efforts and ecological studies. A recent research by scientists from the University of Gdańsk[1] has shed light on the foraging ecology of the little auk (Alle alle), a small seabird native to the Arctic during the pre-laying period of their breeding cycle. This study is particularly significant as it examines the energy and time birds invest in different stages of breeding, which can vary between males and females due to different nutritional needs or foraging strategies. The little auk is known for its zooplanktivorous diet, meaning it primarily feeds on zooplankton. Previous research has highlighted the potential impact of climate change on the foraging habitats of these birds, suggesting that rising sea surface temperatures could lead to a loss of suitable foraging areas[2]. The new study builds upon these findings by using GPS-TDR loggers, which are devices attached to the birds that record their location and diving behavior, to track the foraging trips of little auks during the critical pre-laying period. The pre-laying period is when birds prepare for egg-laying by foraging extensively to accumulate the necessary energy reserves. This phase is particularly demanding, and understanding it is key to grasping how seabirds manage their energy and time before the strenuous tasks of laying and incubating eggs[3]. The research found that during this period, the foraging ranges and habitats of the little auks varied, suggesting a complex strategy to meet their breeding requirements. The study's findings also align with observations in other seabird species, such as the Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) and the Thin-billed prion (Pachyptila belcheri), which exhibit sex-specific foraging behaviors and habitat use during the breeding season[4][5]. In the case of the Sooty Shearwater, males and females segregated seasonally, with males foraging locally and females traveling further to richer waters during the pre-laying period[4]. Similarly, the Thin-billed prions from different geographical populations showed varying foraging behaviors and colony attendance patterns, influenced by the availability of food resources in their respective locations[5]. The University of Gdańsk's research contributes to this body of knowledge by providing insights into the foraging ecology of the little auk, a species for which there is less information available regarding sexual segregation and foraging behavior during breeding. By comparing the foraging trips of little auks during the pre-laying period with other stages of breeding, and between sexes, the study offers a more comprehensive understanding of how these birds allocate their energy and time throughout the breeding cycle. The methods used in this study, particularly the deployment of GPS-TDR loggers, provided detailed data on the birds' movements and diving behaviors. This technology has revolutionized the study of seabird ecology, allowing researchers to track birds over long distances and periods, and to collect data that was previously unattainable. The findings of this research are essential for conservation efforts, as they help predict how seabirds might adapt to changing environmental conditions. For instance, if climate change affects the availability of zooplankton, little auks may need to alter their foraging ranges and habits to find sufficient food, which could in turn affect their breeding success. In conclusion, the University of Gdańsk's study on the little auk provides valuable information on the foraging strategies of Arctic seabirds during the pre-laying period. It expands our understanding of seabird ecology and highlights the importance of considering different breeding stages and sex-specific behaviors when studying these animals. This research is a step forward in the ongoing effort to comprehend and protect the intricate lives of seabirds in a rapidly changing world.

EcologyAnimal ScienceMarine Biology


Main Study

1) Sex differences in foraging ecology of a zooplanktivorous little auk Alle alle during the pre-laying period: insights from remote sensing and animal-tracking

Published 17th April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Habitat foraging niche of a High Arctic zooplanktivorous seabird in a changing environment.

3) Why don't birds lay more eggs?

Journal: Trends in ecology & evolution, Issue: Vol 12, Issue 7, Jul 1997

4) Seasonal sexual segregation by monomorphic Sooty Shearwaters Puffinus griseus reflects different reproductive roles during the pre-laying period.

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

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