Group-foraging and information transfer in European shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Evans, Julian Claude
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Future publication planned
Many animals including marine mammals and several seabird species dive in large groups, but the impacts that social interactions can have on diving behaviour are poorly understood. There are several potential benefits to social diving, such as access to social information or reduced predation risk. In this body of research I explore the use of social information by groups of diving animals by studying the behaviour of European shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) diving in “foraging rafts” in the Isles of Scilly. Using GPS tracking I establish where shags regularly forage in relation to bathymetry and areas where foraging rafts frequently formed. Using these data I show that the foraging ranges of different colonies overlap and that foraging ranges of individual shags are often predictable. This suggests that social information will be of less value while searching for foraging patches. However, using observational studies to further explore the conditions and areas in which foraging rafts formed, I show that advantages such as anti-predation or hydrodynamic benefits are unlikely to be the main drivers of rafting behaviour in the Scillies. I therefore suggest that access to social information from conspecifics at a foraging patch may be one of the main benefits diving in groups. Using a dynamic programming model I show that individuals diving in a group benefit from using social information, even when unable to assess conspecific foraging success. Finally I use video analysis to extract the positions and diving behaviour of individuals within a foraging raft and compare this to simulated data of collective motion and diving behaviour. The results of these studies indicate that an individual being able to utilise dives of conspecifics to inform their own diving decisions may be one of the main advantages of social diving.
This project was funded by a studentship from the European Social Fund’s convergence programme, in collaboration with Jim Standing at the Fourth Element.
Evans, J. C., Votier, S. C., & Dall, S. R. X. (2015). Information use in colonial living. Biological Reviews, 1-16.
Evans J. C., Dall, S. R. X., Bolton, M., Owen, E. & Votier S. C. (In press), Social foraging European shags: GPS tracking reveals birds from neighbouring colonies have shared foraging grounds. Journal of Ornithology
Dall, Sasha R. X.
Votier, Stephen C.
PhD in Biological Sciences