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Mar Biol. 2014;161(6):1335-1348. Epub 2014 Apr 3.

Factors affecting the foraging behaviour of the European shag: implications for seabird tracking studies.

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School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 3GP UK.
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, 3215 Australia.
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, North Wales Office, Bangor, LL57 4FD UK.


Seabird tracking has become an ever more popular tool to aid environmental procedures such as the designation of marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments. However, samples used are usually small and little consideration is given to experimental design and sampling protocol. European shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis were tracked using GPS technology over three breeding seasons and the following foraging trip characteristics: trip duration, trip distance, maximum distance travelled from the colony, size of area used and direction travelled from colony were determined for each foraging trip. The effect of sex, year of study, breeding site, number and age of chicks and the timing of tracking on foraging behaviour were investigated using a General Estimation Equation model. A range of sampling scenarios reflecting likely field sampling were also tested to compare how foraging behaviour differed depending on composition of the sample of birds tracked. Trip distance, trip duration, maximum distance travelled and size of area used were all significantly affected by the breeding site, and the number of chicks a tracked adult was raising. The effect of sex was also seen when examining trip distance, trip duration and the maximum distance travelled. The direction travelled on a foraging trip was also significantly affected by breeding site. This study highlights the importance of sampling regime and the influence that year, sex, age, number of chicks and breeding site can have on the foraging trip characteristics for this coastal feeding seabird. Given the logistical and financial constraints in tracking large numbers of individuals, this study identifies the need for researchers to consider the composition of their study sample to ensure any identified foraging areas are as representative as possible of the whole colony's foraging area.

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