Articles | Volume 13, issue 8
Research article
29 Apr 2016
Research article |  | 29 Apr 2016

Foraging segregation of two congeneric diving seabird species breeding on St. George Island, Bering Sea

Nobuo Kokubun, Takashi Yamamoto, Nobuhiko Sato, Yutaka Watanuki, Alexis Will, Alexander S. Kitaysky, and Akinori Takahashi

Abstract. Subarctic environmental changes are expected to affect the foraging ecology of marine top predators, but the response to such changes may vary among species if they use food resources differently. We examined the characteristics of foraging behavior of two sympatric congeneric diving seabird: common (Uria aalge: hereafter COMUs) and thick-billed (U. lomvia: hereafter TBMUs) murres breeding on St. George Island, located in the seasonal sea-ice region of the Bering Sea. We investigated their foraging trip and flight durations, diel patterns of dive depth, and underwater wing strokes, along with wing morphology and blood stable isotope signatures and stress hormones. Acceleration–temperature–depth loggers were attached to chick-guarding birds, and data were obtained from 7 COMUs and 12 TBMUs. Both species showed similar mean trip duration (13.2 h for COMUs and 10.5 h for TBMUs) and similar diurnal patterns of diving (frequent dives to various depths in the daytime and less frequent dives to shallow depths in the nighttime). During the daytime, the dive depths of COMUs had two peaks in shallow (18.1 m) and deep (74.2 m) depths, while those of TBMUs were 20.2 m and 59.7 m. COMUs showed more frequent wing strokes during the bottom phase of dives (1.90 s−1) than TBMUs (1.66 s−1). Fish occurred more frequently in the bill loads of COMUs (85 %) than those of TBMUs (56 %). The δ15N value of blood was significantly higher in COMUs (14.5 ‰) than in TBMUs (13.1 ‰). The relatively small wing area (0.053 m2) of COMUs compared to TBMUs (0.067 m2) may facilitate their increased agility while foraging and allow them to capture more mobile prey such as larger fishes that inhabit deeper depths. These differences in food resource use may lead to the differential responses of the two murre species to marine environmental changes in the Bering Sea.

Short summary
Subarctic climate changes may affect the foraging ecology of top predators. We studied the foraging characteristics of two diving seabirds: common (COMUs) and thick-billed murres (TBMUs). COMUs had smaller wing area, partly used deeper depths with more frequent wing strokes, and used higher trophic prey than TBMUs. The smaller wing of COMUs may facilitate swimming agility so that they can capture more mobile prey. These may lead to their different responses to local marine environmental changes.
Final-revised paper