Research Summary: Incubation Patterns in a Central-Place Forager Affect Lifetime Reproductive Success: Scaling of Patterns from a Foraging Bout to a Lifetime



Long-lived seabirds face a conflict between current and lifelong reproductive success. During incubation shifts, egg neglect is sometimes necessary to avoid starvation, but may compromise the current reproductive attempt. However, factors underlying this decision process are poorly understood. We focus on the ancient murrelet, Synthliboramphus antiquus, an alcid with exceptionally long incubation shift lengths, and test the impact of environmental factors on incubation shift length in relation to reproductive success.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Using an information theoretic approach, we show that incubation shift length was a strong predictor of reproductive success for ancient murrelets at Reef Island, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada during the 2007 and 2008 breeding seasons. The most important factors explaining an individual’s shift length were egg size, wind speed and the length of the mate’s previous shift. Wind speed and tide height were the two most important factors for determining foraging behavior, as measured by dive frequency and depth.


Our study demonstrates that (i) species-specific reproductive strategies interact with environmental conditions such as wind speed to form multiple incubation patterns and (ii) maintaining regular incubation shifts is an essential component of reproductive success.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 15-March-2011

Author(s): Shoji A., Elliott K., Aris-Brosou S., Crump D., Gaston A.


Leave a Reply