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Luck and tactics in foraging success: the case of the imperial shag

Rory Wilson Orcid Logo, Mark Holton Orcid Logo, Andrew Neate, M Del’Caño, F Quintana, K Yoda, A Gómez-Laich

Marine Ecology Progress Series, Volume: 682, Pages: 1 - 12

Swansea University Authors: Rory Wilson Orcid Logo, Mark Holton Orcid Logo, Andrew Neate

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DOI (Published version): 10.3354/meps13967

Abstract

It has been proposed that predators searching for prey acquire food according to a probabilistic framework, where success is based on ‘luck’ and the odds of success vary with prey abundance. If true, this has major ramifications for variation in the rates of energy acquisition within animal populati...

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Published in: Marine Ecology Progress Series
ISSN: 0171-8630 1616-1599
Published: Inter-Research Science Center 2022
Online Access: Check full text

URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa58851
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Abstract: It has been proposed that predators searching for prey acquire food according to a probabilistic framework, where success is based on ‘luck’ and the odds of success vary with prey abundance. If true, this has major ramifications for variation in the rates of energy acquisition within animal populations, which is particularly pertinent in offspring provisioning and breeding success because smaller animals (the young) cannot starve for as long as the adults. However, despite much general speculation about rates of food acquisition, no-one has measured whether food encounter is probabilistic in wild animals. We used animal-mounted cameras to document all prey captures by wild Imperial shags Leucocarbo atriceps as they hunted underwater and show that, although they mostly do not have inter-prey acquisition time distributions that accord with a ‘luck-based’ framework assuming a constant probability of finding prey over time, there is no difference in the amount of food predicted captured between models that use the empirical data or theoretical Poisson-based fits of the data. We also noted considerable inter-individual differences in foraging success that far exceeded any differences between empirical and theoretical inter-prey acquisition time distributions. The data were used in a probabilistic foraging model that made explicit the mechanistic link between random prey encounters and food-dependent breeding success. This indicated that our ‘less lucky’ individuals could not provision their brood at rates commensurate with normal growth while the ‘lucky’ birds could do so easily. Given the nature of food encounter in our cormorants, coupled with substantial inter-bird variation in foraging success, we suggest that more successful individuals are particularly choosey about when, how and where to forage, which results in them operating with higher odds of success.
Keywords: Leucocarbo atriceps; Cormorant; Foraging ecology; Gambling; Probability of food encounter; Tactics
College: College of Science
Funders: This study was funded by the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica (PICT 2013 − 1229) and by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI (Grant Number JP16H06541 and JP16H01769).
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End Page: 12