GPS tracking reveals rafting behaviour of Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus): implications for foraging ecology and conservation

Matthew Ian Daniel Carter, Samantha L. Cox, Kylie L. Scales, Anthony W. J. Bicknell, Matthew D. Nicholson, Kelly M. Atkins, Greg Morgan, Lisa Morgan, W. James Grecian, Samantha C. Patrick, Stephen C. Votier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Capsule:  Three quarters of tracked Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) at Grassholm gathered in rafts around the colony, concentrated within a recently designated at-sea Special Protection Area (SPA), but rafting was not correlated with foraging effort.
Aims:  To investigate the incidence, distribution and foraging implications of Northern Gannet rafting behaviour in waters adjacent to a large colony.
Methods:  Using bird-borne global positioning system (GPS) loggers we reconstructed at-sea movement and used a speed filter to identify rafting behaviour within 10 km of the colony. We mapped the spatial distribution of rafting events from 160 breeding individuals over 5 years, and investigated the relationship between foraging effort (trip duration and total distance travelled) and the presence/absence of rafting.
Results:  On average, 74% of tracked birds engaged in rafting. Of the 381 foraging trips analysed, rafting was recorded on 237 (62%). Birds were more likely to raft on outbound (224 trips, 59%), than inbound journeys (38 trips, 10%). Presence/absence of rafting did not correlate significantly with foraging trip distance or duration nor with duration of nest attendance. The majority of rafting was concentrated in a 2-km radius around the colony within a recently designated seaward SPA extension. Birds showed low individual repeatability in rafting, although there was lower variation within, than among, individuals.
Conclusion:  Our results show that rafting is important for breeding gannets on Grassholm, and a recently designated at-sea SPA encapsulates the core distribution of rafting. Rafting did not appear to be correlated with foraging behaviour. Given the dearth of literature on rafting and the wealth of GPS tracking data for seabirds, we suggest that similar research be conducted elsewhere to further elucidate the ecological and applied significance of this behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-95
Number of pages13
JournalBird Study
Issue number1
Early online date10 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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