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Keywords:

  • Alle alle;
  • breeding;
  • Calanus spp.;
  • foraging strategy;
  • Svalbard

Abstract

The foraging behaviour of little auks (Alle alle) in the Bjørndalen colony on the western coast of Spitsbergen was studied during the breeding season 2005. The duration of foraging trips and contents of gular pouches were analysed. Quantitative zooplankton samples procured in the vicinity of the colony facilitated a comparison between gular pouch contents and the availability of prey species. Zooplankton and gular pouch samples were all sampled within a time window of approximately one week. Using the Bray–Curtis similarity index, we determined that little auks in this colony have a bimodal foraging strategy consisting of long and short foraging trips with two corresponding distinct diets. Short trips are most likely to be centred on areas within the Isfjorden complex, whereas the birds are most likely to use the long trips (of typically more than 10 hours) to reach areas off the continental slope where they are able to feed selectively on large, energy-rich food items such as Calanus hyperboreus. This bimodal foraging strategy may be a response to the low availability of nutrient-rich food close to the colony, which is insufficient to sustain both parents and chicks. Bimodal foraging trip strategies are well documented in many species in the Southern Ocean. This is the first study to show a similar feeding pattern in an Alcidae species in the Northern Hemisphere.