Foraging movements of great frigatebirds from Aldabra Island: Relationship with environmental variables and interactions with fisheries
Great Frigatebirds ( Fregata minor) are large tropical seabirds that rely primarily on sub-surface predators such as tunas or cetaceans to capture their prey. We studied the foraging movements of 14 Great Frigatebirds breeding on Aldabra Island (9.4°S, 46.4°E), the largest colony in the Indian Ocean. This colony is located at more than 500 km from the main fishing grounds of a very important industrial purse-seine fishery targeting surface-dwelling tunas. Despite their slow flight speeds (16 km h -1), frigatebirds are able to forage at more than 1000 km from the colonies when breeding, using 2500-4750 km long foraging loops over oceanic waters. All trips were directed to the north of the island up to the equator. Foraging bouts, indicated by reduced flight speeds, were rare and located throughout the trips. Foraging spots tended to be more frequent on higher surface chlorophyll concentration and in association with some cyclonic vortices. However, mesoscale activity is relatively weak between Aldabra and the equator and the chlorophyll variability is mostly the result of wind-mixing processes during the southwest monsoon. These results suggest that frigatebirds forage for widely distributed resources to the north of Aldabra. The northernmost foraging bouts were located in the vicinity of the purse-seine fishing grounds, but without a significant overlap between frigatebirds and tuna fleets. The results of the study are compared with those from another population at Europa Island (22.3°S, 40.3°E) where birds were foraging on predictable features, the edge of cyclonic eddies that are marked in the Mozambique Channel. We discuss the consequences of the reliance of populations on contrasted oceanographic conditions on foraging strategies and on the evolution of life histories in these long-lived animals in a changing climate, as well as the possible effects of overfishing on frigatebird populations.