Space Partitioning Without Territoriality in Gannets

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Science  05 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6141, pp. 68-70
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236077

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This Is the Place

Bats, bees, seals, and many seabirds practice central-place foraging, leaving a central home site, such as a hive or a rookery, to forage in a specific territory. Such species also share the challenge of competing for local resources with individuals from separate colonies. Using satellite tags, Wakefield et al. (p. 68, published online 6 June; see the Perspective by Weimerskirch) followed over 180 northern gannets to determine potential drivers of foraging territory division. Boundaries among colonial territories arose as a result of competition with individuals from other territories. Individuals from the same colony appeared to share information about foraging sites, presumably contributing to the establishment and maintenance of specific, long-term colonial territories.


Colonial breeding is widespread among animals. Some, such as eusocial insects, may use agonistic behavior to partition available foraging habitat into mutually exclusive territories; others, such as breeding seabirds, do not. We found that northern gannets, satellite-tracked from 12 neighboring colonies, nonetheless forage in largely mutually exclusive areas and that these colony-specific home ranges are determined by density-dependent competition. This segregation may be enhanced by individual-level public information transfer, leading to cultural evolution and divergence among colonies.

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