Auk’s Top Cited, #6: Prey Searching & Social Information in Cape Gannets

Changeover in a Cape Gannet breeding pair. Image credit: A. Thiebault.

Our series on our most cited papers of 2014 and 2015 continues this week with the paper From colony to first patch: Processes of prey searching and social information in Cape Gannets by A. Thiebault et al., from the October 2014 issue of The Auk: Ornithological Advances.

Cape Gannets make long trips back and forth between their breeding colonies and foraging areas, and the researchers behind this study fitted gannets with GPS devices and tiny video cameras to follow the birds’ behavior on their commutes. They learned that their study birds commonly observed other gannets and changed direction based on what they were doing, taking cues from other birds to locate fish schools more efficiently. These “foraging networks” enable the fast transfer of information among individuals, making it possible for more birds to reach a shoal and feed before it’s depleted.

Cape Gannets forage in open spaces that allow long-distance visibility, and the authors speculate that the high visibility of their black and white plumage enhances the efficiency of foraging networks, making it easier for individuals to locate and follow conspecifics. Because Cape Gannets that have been feeding can be recognized in flight by a bulge on the lower belly, it’s possible that gannets are even able to tell whether the birds they pass have been feeding recently or not.

Read the full paper at