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Boyd, C., Grunbaum, D., Hunt, G. L., Punt, A. E., Weimerskirch, H., & Bertrand, S. (2016). Effectiveness of social information used by seabirds searching for unpredictable and ephemeral prey. Behav. Ecol., 27(4), 1223–1234.
Résumé: Understanding how seabirds and other central place foragers locate food resources represents a key step in predicting responses to changes in resource abundance and distribution. Where prey distributions are unpredictable and ephemeral, seabirds may gain up-to-date information by monitoring the direction of birds returning to the colony or by monitoring the foraging behavior of other birds through local enhancement. However, search strategies based on social information may require high population densities, raising concerns about the potential loss of information in declining populations. Our objectives were to explore the mechanisms that underpin effective search strategies based on social information under a range of population densities and different foraging conditions. Testing relevant hypotheses through field observation is challenging because of limitations in the ability to manipulate population densities and foraging conditions. We therefore developed a spatially explicit individual-based foraging model, informed by data on the movement and foraging patterns of seabirds foraging on pelagic prey, and used model simulations to investigate the mechanisms underpinning search strategies. Orientation of outbound headings in line with returning birds enables departing birds to avoid areas without prey even at relatively low population densities. The mechanisms underpinning local enhancement are more effective as population densities increase and may be facilitated by other mechanisms that concentrate individuals in profitable areas. For seabirds and other central place foragers foraging on unpredictable and ephemeral food resources, information is especially valuable when resources are spatially concentrated and may play an important role in mitigating poor foraging conditions.