Human impacts on water transparency may affect plunge-diving seabirds. We studied prey capture success of Sandwich Terns Sterna sandvicensis as a function of six environmental variables during the breeding season. We observed diving terns in the south eastern North Sea and found a non-linear optimum curve for the relationship between Secchi transparency and prey capture probability. High capture probability was found at 1.5–2.0 m, with an optimum of 63% at 1.74 m. At a minimum transparency of 0.4 m and at a maximum transparency of 3.2 m, capture probabilities were about halved. Conversion of transparency to total suspended matter (TSM) concentration showed that the optimum concentration for foraging terns would be 5–10 mg/L under mean summer conditions for chlorophyll-a. However, the summer-averaged TSM concentrations in the nearshore Dutch coastal waters range between 10 and 30 mg/L, which implies that foraging Terns in the breeding season do not encounter optimal foraging conditions. The Full Plunge Dive, with which the largest diving depth can be achieved, was applied dominantly in clear water, while the Partial Plunge Dive and Contact Dip were applied more frequently in turbid water, thus showing that Sandwich Terns adjust their diving technique in response to water transparency.
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