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Does interference competition explain why White Terns of Aride Island, Seychelles, breed predominantly when marine productivity is lower?

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White Terns Gygis alba breed throughout the year on Aride Island but show a marked preference to nest during the northwest monsoon (November–March), when interspecific competition and also marine productivity are considered to be lower. In this study we investigated and compared breeding and foraging parameters of White Terns between the northwest and southeast (May–September) monsoons to assess whether interspecific competition affected foraging activity and explained the timing of breeding of White Terns. Goatfish (Mullidae) dominated the diet of White Terns and no significant differences were found in diet composition between the northwest and southeast monsoons. Similar diets and patterns of food provisioning of White Terns between the two monsoons do not support the hypothesis of strong exploitation competition during the southeast monsoon. On the other hand, foraging behaviour and frequency of capture attempts of White Terns differed between the two monsoons. The percentages of multi-species flocks with White Terns and of large flocks with more than 25 noddies Anous and terns Onychoprion were significantly higher during the southeast monsoon. Moreover, capture attempt frequencies of White Terns foraging in multi-species flocks were lower than those of solitary individuals, and both solitary and flocking White Terns had significantly lower capture attempt frequencies during the southeast monsoon in comparison with the northwest monsoon. These results suggest that interference competition depresses foraging activity of flock-foraging White Terns, particularly during the southeast monsoon, which could potentially explain why White Terns breed preferentially during the northwest monsoon. However, and despite avoiding interference competition, White Terns nesting during the northwest monsoon did not show higher breeding success than those nesting during the southeast monsoon. Other hypotheses that might explain the preference of White Terns for breeding during the northwest monsoon, such as avoidance of agonistic interactions with Lesser Noddies Anous tenuirostris at nest sites, should also be investigated.

Keywords: breeding phenology; breeding success; competition; diet; foraging behaviour; tropical seabird

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2009.00905.x

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Marine Research (IMAR), Department of Zoology, University of Coimbra, 3004-517 Coimbra, Portugal 2: Aride Island Nature Reserve/Island Conservation Society (ICS), Box 775, Victoria, Seychelles 3: Laboratoire ECOMAR, Université de la Réunion, 97715 Saint Denis message cedex 9, France

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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