The new study which features in the April 7th 2017 edition of Marine Ecology Progress Series, focused on whether puffin pairs stayed in contact during the winter months or instead headed off and migrated independently, prioritising their individual health and wellbeing. The research also establishes whether this approach had any impact on the pairs’ subsequent breeding success.
Over the course of six years, the team from Oxford’s Department of Zoology, in collaboration with the London Institute of Zoology, used miniature tracking devices called geolocators to track the migratory movements and behaviour of 12 pairs of Atlantic Puffins, breeding on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire. They assessed if and how much pairs’ migratory strategies were related to their future breeding performance and fitness.
Dr Annette Fayet, a Junior Research Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford and of the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, who is lead author of the study, said: "While migrating close to one’s partner leads to more successful breeding in puffins, female winter foraging effort seems to be even more critical to ensure high reproductive success. A likely explanation for this finding is that female puffins which spend more time fuelling up over winter return to the colony in better condition and are able to lay higher quality eggs, rearing stronger chicks.
The recent miniaturisation of tracking technology has allowed scientists to study the at-sea movements of puffins and other small migratory seabirds remotely over months and even years. Complex analytical techniques like machine learning can also be used to identify behaviours in tracking data, informing not only where birds go, but also what they do at sea (e.g. flying, foraging).
Overall it seems that prioritising individual condition is more important for seabirds’ breeding success than maintaining contact with their partner outside of the breeding season. However, following similar migration routes to one another may help synchronise returns to the breeding colony, which is known to be important for pair bond and breeding success in many migratory birds."
Read the paper here: http://www.int-res.com/articles/meps_oa/m569p243.pdf