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Meeting reproductive demands in a dynamic upwelling system: Foraging strategies of a pursuit-diving seabird, the marbled murrelet

January 1, 2009

Seabirds maintain plasticity in their foraging behavior to cope with energy demands and foraging constraints that vary over the reproductive cycle, but behavioral studies comparing breeding and nonbreeding individuals are rare. Here we characterize how Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) adjust their foraging effort in response to changes in reproductive demands in an upwelling system in central California. We radio-marked 32 murrelets of known reproductive status (9 breeders, 12 potential breeders, and 11 nonbreeders) and estimated both foraging ranges and diving rates during the breeding season. Murrelets spent more time diving during upwelling than oceanographic relaxation, increased their foraging ranges as the duration of relaxation grew longer, and reduced their foraging ranges after transitions to upwelling. When not incubating, murrelets moved in a circadian pattern, spending nighttime hours resting near flyways used to reach nesting habitat and foraging during the daytime an average of 5.7 km (SD 6.7 km) from nighttime locations. Breeders foraged close to nesting habitat once they initiated nesting and nest attendance was at a maximum, and then resumed traveling longer distances following the completion of nesting. Nonbreeders had similar nighttime and daytime distributions and tended to be located farther from inland flyways. Breeders increased the amount of time they spent diving by 71-73% when they had an active nest by increasing the number of dives rather than by increasing the frequency of anaerobiosis. Thus, to meet reproductive demands during nesting, murrelets adopted a combined strategy of reducing energy expended commuting to foraging sites and increasing aerobic dive rates. ?? 2009 by The Cooper Ornithological Society. All rights reserved.