Drivers of individual foraging behaviour specialisation in a model seabird, the Falkland Islands shag

Funding bodies: QUADRAT/NERC

PhD affiliations: University of Aberdeen , SAERI

Project overview

Individual variation is key to our understanding of ecological and evolutionary processes, with important implications for species conservation. In particular, the relevance and extent of consistent behavioural differences (‘personality’), and the degree of plasticity or specialisation shown by individuals, has important consequences for a range of key traits including survival and reproductive success. These translate into population level impacts because they influence the susceptibility of individuals to anthropogenic threats.

Using biologging techniques and diet analysis, this research will study the poorly known Falkland Islands shag (Leucocarbo atriceps albiventer) to investigate how intraspecific competition and environmental variation influence individual specialisation in foraging behaviours. As a widely distributed resident seabird, the Falklands shag offers a model system to not only follow individuals from colonies of varying size and with access to different oceanographic environments but to examine these contrasts year-round. Such characteristics make this species an excellent model to run a ‘natural experiment’ across gradients of competition (colony size) and environmental conditions (inshore and offshore colonies and seasonal variation in productivity and daylength) through which to examine drivers of individual variation in foraging/behavioural specialization.

Project Objectives

  • Foraging behaviour - Deploy GPS and TDR tags on breeding shags at colonies of varying sizes across the Falklands to identify foraging locations and dive behaviours during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons
  • Diet - Identify shag diet through the analysis of regurgitates, stable isotopes and DNA metabarcoding
  • Modelling – Combine foraging and diet data alongside extrinsic factors in state-of-the-art statistical modelling to identify potential drivers of individual specialisation
  • Key areas of importance – Using tracking data, identify key areas of importance in the region for integration into current marine management efforts.


Supervisors: Dr Thomas Bodey , Dr Ana Payo-Payo , Prof Jaimie Dick, Dr Al Baylis

Dates: October 2022 - March 2026
Danni’s career began with an undergrad in Wildlife Conservation at the University of Kent, followed some years later by an MSc by Research in Biodiversity Management. She has had a varied career, from working with the homeless and coordinating volunteers, to invasive species eradication and wildlife rehabilitation, but a passion for wildlife conservation has always prevailed. A defining role was working as the Ranger on Handa Island for two seasons, managing the remote wildlife reserve and monitoring its internationally important seabird colonies, which sparked a new obsession. Following this, she worked as a Seabird Ecologist for Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) where she specialised in colony monitoring and offshore industries advice, before starting her PhD in 2022.

You can read more about her research and the adventures behind the science on her blog:
Highlights July 2022 - June 2023

Danni started her PhD in October and was already in the Falklands by late November. This first field season gave her the rare opportunity to visit both Grand and Steeple Jason to deploy GPS and TDR tags on the small colonies of shags breeding there. She also visited Bleaker to prepare for deploying further tags next season, and collected diet samples from all sites. After two months, she returned to Scotland where she will spend the rest of the year learning new skills to analyse both the movement data and diet samples collected during this successful first trip, as well as drafting a literature review.

Click below image to view Poster of Danni's Project

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