The biology of terns nesting at Aldabra Atoll, Indian Ocean, with particular reference to breeding seasonality



Five species of tern breed on Aldabra Atoll (09° 24′ S; 46° 20′ E). The Caspian tern Sterna caspia and Crested tern S. bergii feed exclusively in very shallow reef/lagoon water, the Fairy tern Gygis alba and Brown noddy Anous stolidus feed out at sea, and the Black-naped tern Sterna sumatrana is intermediate in its foraging. Both of the shallow-water species lay during the south-east monsoon season, the Caspian tern from April to August and the Crested tern from June to August, but the Crested tern also lays in December and January. The remaining three species have extended laying periods largely circumscribed by the north-west monsoon season from November to March. Breeding population size of the Caspian tern is in the low tens and of the Brown noddy in the low thousands, with the other species each numbering in the hundreds. The distribution and abundance of the nine species of tern breeding within the Seychelles (sensu lato) vary on the different island groups in a manner interpretable in terms of depth of the surrounding waters. Systematic differences between the central Seychelles and Aldabra groups in timing of breeding by terns which feed out at sea may be associated with seasonal latitudinal movement of the divergence zone between the South Equatorial Current and the Equatorial Counter-current, acting via correlated latitudinal shifts of prey species and game-fish abundance.