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Ecology. 2006 Dec;87(12):3095-108.

Linking movement, diving, and habitat to foraging success in a large marine predator.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada.


Establishing where and when predators forage is essential to understanding trophic interactions, yet foraging behavior remains poorly understood in large marine carnivores. We investigated the factors leading to foraging success in gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) in the Northwest Atlantic in the first study to use simultaneous deployments of satellite transmitters, time depth recorders, and stomach-temperature loggers on a free-ranging marine mammal. Thirty-two seals were each fitted with the three types of instrumentation; however, complete records from all three instruments were obtained from only 13 individuals, underscoring the difficulty of such a multi-instrument approach. Our goal was to determine the characteristics of diving, habitat, and movement that predict feeding. We linked diving behavior to foraging success at two temporal scales: trips (days) and bouts (hours) to test models of optimal diving, which indicate that feeding can be predicted by time spent at the bottom of a dive. Using an information-theoretic approach, a Generalized Linear Mixed Model with trip duration and accumulated bottom time per day best explained the number of feeding events per trip, whereas the best predictor of the number of feeding events per bout was accumulated bottom time. We then tested whether characteristics of movement were predictive of feeding. Significant predictors of the number of feeding events per trip were angular variance (i.e., path tortuosity) and distance traveled per day. Finally, we integrated measures of diving, movement, and habitat at four temporal scales to determine overall predictors of feeding. At the 3-h scale, mean bottom time and distance traveled were the most important predictors of feeding frequency, whereas at the 6-h and 24-h time scales, distance traveled alone was most important. Bathymetry was the most significant predictor of feeding at the 12-h interval, with feeding more likely to occur at deeper depths. Our findings indicate that several factors predict feeding in gray seals, but predictor variables differ across temporal scales such that environmental variation becomes important at some scales and not others. Overall, our results illustrate the value of simultaneously recording and integrating multiple types of information to better understand the circumstances leading to foraging success.

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