Habitat-mediated population limitation in a colonial central-place forager: the sky is not the limit for the black-browed albatross

Ewan David Wakefield, Richard A. Phillips, Jason Mattiopoulos

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23 Citations (Scopus)
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Animal populations are frequently limited by the availability of food or of habitat. In central-place foragers, the cost of accessing these resources is distance-dependent rather than uniform in space. However, in seabirds, a widely studied exemplar of this paradigm, empirical population models have hitherto ignored this cost. In part, this is because non-independence among colonies makes it difficult to define population units. Here, we model the effects of both resource availability and accessibility on populations of a wide-ranging, pelagic seabird, the black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophris. Adopting a multi-scale approach, we define regional populations objectively as spatial clusters of colonies. We consider two readily quantifiable proxies of resource availability: the extent of neritic waters (the preferred foraging habitat) and net primary production (NPP). We show that the size of regional albatross populations has a strong dependence, after weighting for accessibility, on habitat availability and to a lesser extent, NPP. Our results provide indirect support for the hypothesis that seabird populations are regulated from the bottom-up by food availability during the breeding season, and also suggest that the spatio-temporal predictability of food may be limiting. Moreover, we demonstrate a straightforward, widely applicable method for estimating resource limitation in populations of central-place foragers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20132883
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1778
Early online date15 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • Population regulation
  • Seabirds
  • Density dependence
  • Habitat preference
  • Net primary production
  • Spatial segregation


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