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A new algorithm for the identification of dives reveals the foraging ecology of a shallow-diving seabird using accelerometer data

Cianchetti-Benedetti, M., Catoni, C., Kato, A., Massa, B., Quillfeldt, P.
Marine biology 2017 v.164 no.4 pp. 77
accelerometers, algorithms, ecology, foraging, microprocessors, parents, reproduction, seabirds
The identification of feeding events is crucial to our understanding of the foraging ecology of seabirds. Technology has made small devices, such as time-depth recorders (TDRs) and accelerometers available. However, TDRs might not be sensitive enough to identify shallow dives, whereas accelerometers might reveal more subtle behaviours at a smaller temporal scale. Due to the limitations of TDRs, the foraging ecology of many shallow-diving seabirds has been poorly investigated to date. We thus developed an algorithm to identify dive events in a shallow-diving seabird species, the Scopoli’s shearwater, using only accelerometer data. The accuracy in the identification of dives using either accelerometers or TDRs was compared. Furthermore, we tested if the foraging behaviour of shearwaters changed during different phases of reproduction and with foraging trip type. Data were collected in Linosa Island (35°51′33″N; 12°51′34″E) from 12 June to 8 September 2015 by deploying accelerometer data loggers on 60 Scopoli’s shearwaters. Four birds were also equipped with TDRs. TDRs recorded only 17.7% of the dives detected by the accelerometers using the algorithm. A total of 82.3% of dives identified by algorithm were too short or shallow to be detected by TDRs. Therefore, TDRs were not accurate enough to detect most of the dives in Scopoli’s shearwaters, which foraged mostly close to the sea surface. Our data showed that birds performed shorter foraging trips and dived more frequently in the early chick-rearing period compared with the late chick-rearing and incubation phases. Furthermore, parents dived more frequently during short foraging trips. Our results suggest that Scopoli’s shearwaters maximised their foraging effort (e.g. number of dives, short trips) during shorter foraging trips and during early chick-rearing.