Dietary studies in birds: testing a non-invasive method using digital photography in seabirds
Cook, Timothee R.
Ryan, Peter G.
Sherley, Richard B.
Methods in Ecology and Evolution
Reason for embargo
Dietary studies give vital insights into foraging behaviour, with implications for understanding changing environmental conditions and the anthropogenic impacts on natural resources. Traditional diet sampling methods may be invasive or subject to biases, so developing non-invasive and unbiased methods applicable to a diversity of species is essential. We used digital photography to investigate the diet fed to chicks of a prey-carrying seabird and compared our approach (photo-sampling) to a traditional method (regurgitations) for the greater crested tern Thalasseus bergii. Over three breeding seasons, we identified >24 000 prey items of at least 48 different species, more than doubling the known diversity of prey taken by this population of terns. We present a method to estimate the length of the main prey species (anchovy Engraulis encrasicolus) from photographs, with an accuracy <1 mm and precision ~ 0·5 mm. Compared to regurgitations at two colonies, photo-sampling produced similar estimates of prey composition and size, at a faster species accumulation rate. The prey compositions collected by two researchers photo-sampling concurrently were also similar. Photo-sampling offers a non-invasive tool to accurately and efficiently investigate the diet composition and prey size of prey-carrying birds. It reduces biases associated with observer-based studies and is simple to use. This methodology provides a novel tool to aid conservation and management decision-making in the light of the growing need to assess environmental and anthropogenic change in natural ecosystems.
Department of Science and Technology, South Africa
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from the publisher via the DOI in this record.