Evidence for density dependence in foraging and migratory behavior of a subtropical nearshore seabird

Ecology and Evolution
By: , and 



Density-dependent competition for food resources influences both foraging ecology and reproduction in a variety of animals. The relationship between colony size, local prey depletion, and reproductive output in colonial central-place foragers has been extensively studied in seabirds; however, most studies have focused on effects of intraspecific competition during the breeding season, while little is known about whether density-dependent resource depletion influences individual migratory behavior outside the breeding season. Using breeding colony size as a surrogate for intraspecific resource competition, we tested for effects of colony size on breeding home range, nestling health, and migratory patterns of a nearshore colonial seabird, the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), originating from seven breeding colonies of varying sizes in the subtropical northern Gulf of Mexico. We found evidence for density-dependent effects on foraging behavior during the breeding season, as individual foraging areas increased linearly with the number of breeding pairs per colony. Contrary to our predictions, however, nestlings from more numerous colonies with larger foraging ranges did not experience either decreased condition or increased stress. During nonbreeding, individuals from larger colonies were more likely to migrate, and traveled longer distances, than individuals from smaller colonies, indicating that the influence of density-dependent effects on distribution persists into the nonbreeding period. We also found significant effects of individual physical condition, particularly body size, on migratory behavior, which in combination with colony size suggesting that dominant individuals remain closer to breeding sites during winter. We conclude that density-dependent competition may be an important driver of both the extent of foraging ranges and the degree of migration exhibited by brown pelicans. However, the effects of density-dependent competition on breeding success and population regulation remain uncertain in this system.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Evidence for density dependence in foraging and migratory behavior of a subtropical nearshore seabird
Series title Ecology and Evolution
DOI 10.1002/ece3.3216
Volume 7
Issue 16
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Atlanta
Description 13 p.
First page 6469
Last page 6481
Country United States
Other Geospatial Gulf of Mexico
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