Applying High-resolution GPS Tracking to Characterize Sensory Foraging Strategies of the Black-browed Albatross, a Top Predator of the Southern Ocean Ecosystem
With 70% of the Earth's surface being covered by oceans, a longstanding question of interest to the ecology of migratory seabirds is how they locate their prey across such vast distances. The project seeks to investigate the sensory strategies used in the foraging behavior of procellariiform seabirds, such as petrels, albatrosses and shearwaters. These birds routinely travel over thousands of kilometers of open ocean, apparently using their pronounced olfactory abilities (known to be up to a million times more sensitive than other birds) to identify productive marine areas or locate prey. High resolution tracking, such as provided by miniaturized GPS data loggers (+/- 5m; 10 second sampling), are needed to gain insight into some of the questions as to the sensory mechanisms birds use to locate their prey. Combining these tracking and positioning devices along with stomach temperature recorders capable of indicating prey ingestion, will provide a wealth of new behavioral information. Species specific foraging based on prey specific odors (e.g. krill vs fisheries vs. squid), and mixed strategies using olfaction and visual cues appear to be different for these different marine predators.
Albatrosses are increasingly an endangered species globally, and additional information as to their foraging strategies might lead to better conservation measures such as the avoidance of by-catch by long-line fisheries.
Intimate details of each species foraging activity patterns during the day and night and insight into the conservation of these top predators in pelagic Southern Ocean ecosystems are a few of the research directions these novel fine scale resolution approaches are yielding.
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