Due to rapidly changing global environmental conditions, many animals are now experiencing concurrent changes in both resource availability and the foraging cues associated with finding those resources. By employing flexible, plastic foraging strategies that use different types of environmental foraging cues, animals could adapt to these novel future environments. To evaluate the extent to which such flexibility and plasticity exist, we analyzed a large dataset of a clade (Sulidae; the boobies) of widespread aerial tropical predators that feed in highly variable marine habitats. These surface foragers are typical of many ocean predators that face dynamic and patchy foraging environments and use a combination of static and ephemeral oceanographic features to locate prey. We compared foraging habitats and behaviors of four species at seven colonies in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean that varied greatly in depth, topography, and primary productivity. Foraging behaviors, recorded by GPS‐tracking tags, were compared to remotely sensed environmental features, to characterize habitat‐behavior interactions. K‐means clustering grouped environmental characteristics into five habitat clusters across the seven sites. We found that boobies relied on a combination of static and ephemeral cues, especially depth, chlorophyll‐a concentrations, and sea surface height (ocean surface topography). Notably, foraging behaviors were strongly predicted by local oceanographic habitats across species and sites, suggesting a high degree of behavioral plasticity in use of different foraging cues. Flexibility allows these top predators to adapt to, and exploit, static and ephemeral oceanic features. Plasticity may well facilitate these species, and other similarly dynamic foragers, to cope with increasingly changing environmental conditions.
Morgan Gilmour, José Castillo‐Guerrero, Abram Fleishman, Salvador Hernández‐Vázquez, Hillary Young, and Scott Shaffer. "Plasticity of foraging behaviors in response to diverse environmental conditions" Ecosphere (2018). DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2301