6 Jul 2015
One Good Tern Deserves Another: Social and Genetic Networks in a Huge Seabird Colony

BRANTA — Lucy Garrett

One Good Tern Deserves Another: Social and Genetic Networks in a Huge Seabird Colony

Institution: University of Birmingham, UK
Supervisors: Jim Reynolds, Julia Myatt, Jon Sadler, John Colbourne
Details: PhD 2017 (expected)
Subject Keywords: Social network analysis, sooty terns, Ascension Island, Army Ornithological Society, Seabird colony, animal behaviour, genetic networks
Species Keywords: Sooty tern Onychoprion fuscatus


Seabirds often gather in large communal groups to breed, which may have advantages such as predator protection, thermoregulation, foraging benefits and mate selection. Until recently our understanding of group structure and dynamics has been considered at the population or individual scale. Recent advances in technologies have increased our ability to investigate how relationships between individuals can influence group structure, and vice versa – how social interactions between individuals can be influenced by the behaviour of the group or population.
In order to study changes in group stability, individuals within the group must be recognisable over time. This study focuses a population of Sooty Terns Onychoprion fuscatus that have been studied on Ascension Island since 1993. Over 25,000 birds have been ringed and 4,000 individuals re-trapped over a 23 year time period. This is a unique opportunity to study social and genetic networks at the individual, sub-group and population levels. Such data are rare and they will greatly improve our understanding of group structure at a range of scales over multiple seasons.
The project will involve the study of known individuals between seasons within the colony to investigate their spatial movements; social relationships; and genetic relationships through comparison with ‘neighbours’ in past, current and future breeding population structures.
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