Can individual personality in seabirds affect their foraging strategy? This was the basis for a study in which scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute and the University of Liverpool combined personality tests with GPS-technology on black-legged kittiwakes on Svalbard. They found clear differences between different personalities.

Different foraging strategies

Differences among individuals often comprise the majority of a population’s variation in behaviour, and individual foraging specialization is a well-known and widespread example. Foraging site fidelity is a common type of behavioural specialization, where some individuals show spatial consistency by repeatedly visiting the same location. While there is increasing evidence of the existence of such differences, the individual-level drivers of site fidelity are, however, poorly understood. This new study examined whether boldness predicts individual differences in the degree of foraging specialization in black-legged kittiwakes. By conducting standardized and repeated novel object tests, the scientists assessed individuals’ position on the bold-shy continuum. The tested kittiwakes were then equipped with GPS loggers to track their foraging movements throughout the breeding season.

Diverging behaviour

Across the breeding season, the distance and range of foraging trips were more consistent among bolder birds than among shy individuals. During the incubation period, bolder individuals showed a higher faithfulness to foraging sites than shy individuals, but this relationship was not found during chick rearing. Regarding spatial partitioning in the breeding season, boldness did not predict the geographical positions of foraging sites. The study suggest that personal differences may constitute important predictors of differences in individual foraging specialization.

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Contact person: Sébastien Descamps, Norwegian Polar Institute

Black-legged kittiwakes with a bold personality (upper illustration) showed a higher site fidelity than shy individuals (lower illustration).
Map: Stephanie Harris