The roles of sex, mass and individual specialisation in partitioning foraging-depth niches of a pursuit-diving predator
Intra-specific foraging niche partitioning can arise due to gender differences or individual specialisation in behaviour or prey selection. These may in turn be related to sexual size dimorphism or individual variation in body size through allometry. These variables are often inter-related and challenging to separate statistically. We present a case study in which the effects of sex, body mass and individual specialisation on the dive depths of the South Georgia shag on Bird Island, South Georgia are investigated simultaneously using a linear mixed model. The nested random effects of trip within individual explained a highly significant amount of the variance. The effects of sex and body mass were both significant independently but could not be separated statistically owing to them being strongly interrelated. Variance components analysis revealed that 45.5% of the variation occurred among individuals, 22.6% among trips and 31.8% among Dives, while R2 approximations showed gender explained 31.4% and body mass 55.9% of the variation among individuals. Male dive depths were more variable than those of females at the levels of individual, trip and dive. The effect of body mass on individual dive depths was only marginally significant within sexes. The percentage of individual variation in dive depths explained by mass was trivial in males (0.8%) but substantial in females (24.1%), suggesting that differences in dive depths among males was largely due to them adopting different behavioural strategies whereas in females allometry played an additional role. Niche partitioning in the study population therefore appears to be achieved through the interactive effects of individual specialisation and gender upon vertical foraging patch selection, and has the potential to interact in complex ways with other axes of the niche hypervolume such as foraging locations, timing of foraging and diet.
Authors: Ratcliffe, Norman, Takahashi, Akinori, O'Sullivan, Claire, Adlard, Stacey, Trathan, Philip N., Harris, Michael P., Wanless, Sarah