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The importance of prey aggregations to the distribution of Brünnich's guillemots in Storfjorden, Svalbard


We studied the influence of the distribution of prey and hydrographic fronts on the spatial distribution of foraging Brunnich's guillemots (Uria lomvia) in Storfjorden, southeastern Svalbard in late July 1992. Two large breeding colonies, comprising a total of 540,000 individuals, were located adjacent to the study area, and large numbers of Brunnich's gullemots from these colonies foraged within the area, as well as to the south, outside of Storfjorden. Within the study area, most guillemots foraged on the west side of the fjord, coincident with a weak subsurface front between warm Atlantic water, which penetrated Storfjorden from the south, and cold Arctic water. Food samples from the guillemots collected in the study area contained primarily crustaceans (Parathemisto spp. and Thysanoessa inermis) and polar cod Boreogadus saida. Acoustic observations of prey were differentiated into two classes of signals, which we interpreted as originating from aggregated and dispersed organisms. The numbers of foraging guillemots were strongly correlated with the strength of echoes of the aggregated type, whereas correlations with dispersed echoes were consistently weaker. The distribution of foraging guillemots showed no significant correlations with either horizontal or vertical gradients of physical properties of the water column. Our finding that guillemots respond differently to aggregated and dispersed prey has important implications both for the interpretation of past work on the foraging ecology of marine birds, and for the management of fisheries.

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