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Long-term trends in albatross diets in relation to prey availability and breeding success

Abstract

Diet analyses can reveal important changes in seabird foraging ecology and, by inference, resource availability and predator–prey dynamics within the wider marine ecosystem. Here, we analysed stomach contents of 1544 grey-headed albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma (GHA) and black-browed albatross T. melanophris (BBA) chicks from Bird Island, South Georgia. We describe dietary shifts (1996–2017), and link those to annual prey availability indices and breeding success. Annual variability in diet was high, and long-term trends in the main components were broadly similar in both albatrosses. Fish consumption (by mass) generally increased over time. Mackerel icefish Champsocephalus gunnari occurrence increased in GHA diets, but was unrelated to local densities derived from fisheries/research cruises. Cephalopod consumption declined until the early 2000s, then plateaued, and the occurrence of the ommastrephid squid Martialia hyadesi declined over time in both albatrosses. In BBAs, Antarctic krill Euphausia superba consumption decreased over time. Conversely, Antarctic krill consumption by GHAs increased until the early 2000s, decreased until the mid-2010s, and increased again in 2017. Antarctic krill consumption was unrelated to local densities based on acoustic surveys, and did not correlate with breeding success. Remotely sensed chlorophyll-a within core foraging areas showed a positive relationship with Antarctic krill in GHA diets, but a negative relationship with M. hyadesi occurrence in both albatross diets. Dietary shifts had consequences for GHA breeding success, which was negatively related to the importance of the cranchiid Galiteuthis glacialis and positively related to M. hyadesi importance. These results highlight the complex mechanisms linking prey availability, diet and breeding success in albatrosses.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank all members of the Bird Island science team who have studied albatross diets. The authors also thank the reviewers for their helpful comments, which helped improve the manuscript. This work represents a contribution to the Ecosystems component of the British Antarctic Survey Polar Science for Planet Earth Programme, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. W.F.M is supported by a NERC GW4 + Doctoral Training Partnership studentship from the Natural Environment Research Council [NE/L002434/1]. J.C.X acknowledges the BAS-CEPH long-term monitoring project, SCAR Ant-ERA, SCAR EGBAMM and ICED programs and financial support received from Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT, Portugal) through the strategic project UID/MAR/04292/2019, granted to MARE.

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Correspondence to William F. Mills.

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Diet sampling was approved by the British Antarctic Survey Ethics Committee and carried out with permission of the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

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Mills, W.F., Xavier, J.C., Bearhop, S. et al. Long-term trends in albatross diets in relation to prey availability and breeding success. Mar Biol 167, 29 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-019-3630-1

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