Foraging ecology of a marine top predator in the Eastern Tropical Pacific over 3 years with different ENSO phases

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a recurrent climatic pattern with important ecological consequences for seabirds due to its impacts on the abundance and distribution of food resources. We investigated the effects of ENSO phases on the foraging ecology of a marine top predator at Clarion Island in the Eastern Tropical Pacific using GPS and time-depth recorder data and regurgitates from incubating masked boobies (Sula dactylatra) during 3 consecutive years. Foraging locations were recorded in 2016 (El Niño, one female, three males), 2017 (neutral; six females, nine males), and 2018 (La Niña; eight females, ten males). Local sea surface temperature (SST) and chlorophyll-a concentration (CHL) within the birds’ foraging range were compared among the 3 years. Regurgitates were collected opportunistically from 25 and 31 incubating adults in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Average local CHL and SST were similar among years (mean SST 25 °C; mean CHL 0.10 and of 0.09 mg m−3 in January and March, respectively). Masked boobies travelled a maximum of 66 ± 34 km from the colony. The maximum trip duration was 7.7 ± 3.4 h and total distance travelled during a foraging trip was 164 ± 73 km, with no sex- or year-related differences. Masked boobies mainly caught flying fish, but their diet also included one squid and six other fish families. In contrast to previously reported changes in foraging ecology of seabirds, masked boobies at Clarion Island seemed to be unaffected during El Niño, because the local oceanography was relatively unperturbed by ENSO oscillations.


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