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Between-year and spatial variation in body condition across the breeding cycle in a pelagic seabird, the Red-billed Tropicbird

Beard, Annalea, Thomas, Robert J. ORCID:, Medeiros Mirra, Renata, Clingham, Elizabeth, Henry, Leeann, Saldanha, Sarah, González-Solís, Jacob and Hailer, Frank ORCID: 2023. Between-year and spatial variation in body condition across the breeding cycle in a pelagic seabird, the Red-billed Tropicbird. Ecology and Evolution 13 (12) , e10743. 10.1002/ece3.10743

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Body condition in pelagic seabirds impacts key fitness-related traits such as reproductive performance and breeding frequency. Regulation of body condition can be especially important for species with long incubation periods and long individual incubation shifts between foraging trips. Here, we show that body condition of adult Red-billed Tropicbirds (Phaethon aethereus) at St Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean, exhibited considerable variation between years (2013–2017) and between different stages of the breeding cycle. Females took the first incubation shift following egg laying, after which males and females alternated incubation shifts of varying length, ranging from <1 to 12 days. Body condition declined in both sexes during an incubation shift by an average of 22 g (2.83% of starting mass) per day and over the incubation period; mass loss was significantly greater during longer incubation shifts, later within a shift and later in the total incubation period. There was also significant differences in incubation behaviour and body condition between years; in 2015, coinciding with a moderate coastal warming event along the Angolan-Namibian coastlines, adults on average undertook longer incubation shifts than in other years and had lower body condition. This suggests that substantial between-year prey fluctuations in the Angola Benguela upwelling system may influence prey availability, in turn affecting incubation behaviour and regulation of body condition. Adults rearing chicks showed a significant reduction in body condition when chicks showed the fastest rate of growth. Chick growth rates during 2017 from two localities in the Atlantic Ocean: an oceanic (St Helena) versus neritic (Cabo Verde) population were similar, but chicks from St Helena were overall heavier and larger at fledging. Results from this multi-year study highlight that flexibility and adaptability in body condition regulation will be important for populations of threatened species to optimise resources as global climate change increasingly influences prey availability.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Publisher: Wiley Open Access
ISSN: 2045-7758
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 19 December 2023
Date of Acceptance: 3 November 2023
Last Modified: 03 Jan 2024 11:29

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