Environmental heterogeneity amplifies behavioural response to a temporal cycle

9 October 2018

Trevail, Alice ; Green, Jonathan; Sharples, Jonathan; Polton, Jeff; Arnould, John; Patrick, Samantha

Resource acquisition is integral to maximise fitness, however in many ecosystems this requires adaptation to resource abundance and distributions that seldom stay constant. For predators, prey availability can vary at fine spatial and temporal scales as a result of changes in the physical environment, and therefore selection should favour individuals that can adapt their foraging behaviour accordingly. The tidal cycle is a short, yet predictable, temporal cycle, which can influence prey availability at temporal scales relevant to movement decisions. Here, we ask whether black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) can adjust their foraging habitat selection according to the tidal cycle using GPS tracking studies at three sites of differing environmental heterogeneity. We used a hidden Markov model to classify kittiwake behaviour, and analysed habitat selection during foraging. As expected for a central-place forager, we found that kittiwakes preferred to forage nearer to the breeding colony. However, we also show that habitat selection changed over the 12.4-hour tidal cycle, most likely because of changes in resource availability. Furthermore, we observed that environmental heterogeneity was associated with amplified changes in kittiwake habitat selection over the tidal cycle, potentially because environmental heterogeneity drives greater resource variation. Both predictable cycles and environmental heterogeneity are ubiquitous. Our results therefore suggest that, together, predictable cycles and environmental heterogeneity may shape predator behaviour across ecosystems.