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Divergent diving behavior during short and long trips of a bimodal forager, the little auk Alle alle


Z. W. Brown, Stanford Univ., Dept of Environmental Earth System Science, 473 Via Ortega, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. E-mail:


The purpose of this study was to characterize for the first time seabird diving behavior during bimodal foraging. Little auks Alle alle, small zooplanktivorous Alcids of the High Arctic, have recently been shown to make foraging trips of short and long duration. Because short (ST) and long trips (LT) are thought to occur in different locations and serve different purposes (chick- and self-feeding, respectively) we hypothesized that foraging differences would be apparent, both in terms of water temperature and diving characteristics. Using Time Depth Recorders (TDRs), we tested this hypothesis at three colonies along the Greenland Sea with contrasting oceanographic conditions. We found that diving behavior generally differed between ST and LT. However, the magnitude of the disparity in diving characteristics depended on local foraging conditions. At the study site where conditions were favorable, diving behavior differed only to a small degree between LT and ST. Together with a lack of difference in diving depth and ocean temperature, this indicates that these birds did not increase their foraging effort during ST nor did they travel long distances to seek out more profitable prey. In contrast, where local foraging conditions were poor, birds increased their diving effort substantially to collect a chick meal during ST as indicated by longer, more U-shaped dives with slower ascent rates and shorter resting times (post-dive intervals and extended surface pauses). In addition, large differences in diving depth and ocean temperature indicate that birds forage on different prey species and utilize different foraging areas during LT, which may be up to 200 km away from the colony. Continued warming and deteriorating near-colony foraging conditions may have energetic consequences for little auks breeding in the eastern Greenland Sea.

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