Seabird Foraging Ecology in Polar, Temperate, and Tropical Ecosystems

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

David Kerstetter

Second Advisor

Amy C. Hirons


Seabirds are a diverse group of avian families that primarily inhabit marine environments, including gulls, terns, pelicans, and penguins. These species exhibit several specific morphological adaptations that make them successful foragers in oceanic environments, although specific adaptations often vary with geographic region. As upper-level predators, seabirds should have significant effects on the nutrient cycling within marine systems. Thus, they can be used as ecological indicators as a way to study prey abundance as well as changing oceanographic features, since seabirds are known to associate feeding tactics with these features. However, logistic and regulatory challenges have prevented detailed study of most species’ diet directly through traditional gut-content analyses. Instead, most research has focused on indirect observations of diet through behavioral foraging strategies. Advancements in tracking technology have made it possible to learn additional fine-scale details of seabird foraging strategies, including the ability to monitor increasingly smaller individual seabirds. While some foraging tactics seem to be used universally, many are location and size dependent.

This capstone reviews the available literature for seabird diet and general foraging techniques, segregated by latitudinal region. Generally, much more research has been done on seabird foraging behavior in polar and temperate environments, while tropical studies are generally lacking. It is believed that the vastly different tropical and oligotrophic environment warrants very different foraging tactics. Details of tropical ecosystem seabird diets and foraging strategies are contrasted with those in polar and temperate species.

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