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Modelling and mapping how common guillemots balance their energy budgets over a full annual cycle

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Ruth E. Dunn
  • Jonathan A. Green
  • Sarah Wanless
  • Mike P. Harris
  • Mark A. Newell
  • Maria I. Bogdanova
  • Catharine Horswill
  • Francis Daunt
  • Jason Matthiopoulos
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/07/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Functional Ecology
Issue number7
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)1612-1626
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date5/05/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The ability of individual animals to balance their energy budgets throughout the annual cycle is important for their survival, reproduction and population dynamics. However, the annual cycles of many wild, mobile animals are difficult to observe and our understanding of how individuals balance their energy budgets throughout the year therefore remains poor. We developed a hierarchical Bayesian state‐space model to investigate how key components of animal energy budgets (namely individual energy gain and storage) varied in space and time. Our model used biologger‐derived estimates of time‐activity budgets, locations and energy expenditure to infer year‐round time series of energy income and reserves. The model accounted for seasonality in environmental drivers such as sea surface temperature and daylength, allowing us to identify times and locations of high energy gain. Our study system was a population of common guillemots Uria aalge breeding at a western North Sea colony. These seabirds manage their energy budgets by adjusting their behaviour and accumulating fat reserves. However, typically during severe weather conditions, birds can experience an energy deficit over a sustained period, leading to starvation and large‐scale mortality events. We show that guillemot energy gain varied in both time and space. Estimates of guillemot body mass varied throughout the annual cycle and birds periodically experienced losses in mass. Mass losses were likely to have either been adaptive, or due to energetic bottlenecks, the latter leading to increased susceptibility to mortality. Guillemots tended to be lighter towards the edge of their spatial distribution. We describe a framework that combines biologging data, time‐activity budget analysis and Bayesian state‐space modelling to identify times and locations of high energetic reward or potential energetic bottlenecks in a wild animal population. Our approach can be extended to address ecological and conservation‐driven questions that were previously unanswerable due to logistical complexities in collecting data on wild, mobile animals across full annual cycles. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.