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Habitat constraints and spatial bias in seabird colony distributions

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What governs the size and location of seabird colonies has long intrigued population ecologists. Previous analysis of the distribution of colonies of four European seabirds revealed a spatial bias – large colonies occurred farther apart than expected by chance alone – suggesting that intraspecific competition for food supplies during breeding may regulate colony size. Here we use computer intensive statistics to show that a similar spatial bias exists in three burrow-nesting seabirds – Cassin's auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticus, rhinoceros auklet Cerorhinca monocerata, and ancient murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus – nesting off the Pacific coast of Canada. Local habitat constraints explain much of the existing spatial bias: large colonies cannot fit on small islands, and large islands suitable for colonies tended to occur far apart. However, a residual spatial bias still remained for ancient murrelets and Cassin's auklets (but not rhinoceros auklets) after habitat constraints are built into the analysis, for which intraspecific food competition remains a plausible explanation.

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Document Type: Original Article

Publication date: October 1, 2000

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