Foraging range scales with colony size in high-latitude seabirds

Density-dependent prey depletion around breeding colonies has long been considered an important factor controlling the population dynamics of colonial animals. Ashmole proposed that as seabird colony size increases, intraspecific competition leads to declines in reproductive success, as breeding adults must spend more time and energy to find prey farther from the colony.1 Seabird colony size often varies over several orders of magnitude within the same species and can include millions of individuals per colony. As such, colony size likely plays an important role in determining the individual behavior of its members and how the colony interacts with the surrounding environment.6 Using tracking data from murres (Uria spp.), the world’s most densely breeding seabirds, we show that the distribution of foraging-trip distances scales to colony size0.33 during the chick-rearing stage, consistent with Ashmole’s halo theory.1,2 This pattern occurred across colonies varying in size over three orders of magnitude and distributed throughout the North Atlantic region. The strong relationship between colony size and foraging range means that the foraging areas of some colonial species can be estimated from colony sizes, which is more practical to measure over a large geographic scale. Two-thirds of the North Atlantic murre population breed at the 16 largest colonies; by extrapolating the predicted foraging ranges to sites without tracking data, we show that only two of these large colonies have significant coverage as marine protected areas. Our results are an important example of how theoretical models, in this case, Ashmole’s version of central-place-foraging theory, can be applied to inform conservation and management in colonial breeding species.


Publication status:
Authors: Patterson, Allison, Gilchrist, H. Grant, Benjaminsen, Sigurd, Bolton, Mark, Bonnet-Lebrun, Anne-Sophie, Davoren, Gail K., Descamps, Sébastien, Erikstad, Kjell Einar, Frederiksen, Morten, Gaston, Anthony J., Gulka, Julia, Hentati-Sundberg, Jonas, Huffeldt, Nicholas Per, Johansen, Kasper Lambert, Labansen, Aili Lage, Linnebjerg, Jannie Fries, Love, Oliver P., Mallory, Mark L., Merkel, Flemming Ravn, Montevecchi, William A., Mosbech, Anders, Olsson, Olof, Owen, Ellie, Ratcliffe, Norman ORCIDORCID record for Norman Ratcliffe, Regular, Paul M., Reiertsen, Tone Kristin, Ropert-Coudert, Yan, Strøm, Hallvard, Thórarinsson, Thorkell Lindberg, Elliott, Kyle H.

On this site: Anne-Sophie Bonnet-Lebrun, Norman Ratcliffe
12 September, 2022
Current Biology / 32
Link to published article: