Behavioural ecology of subantarctic birds

Individuals are programmed to survive, mate, and optimise their fitness. To accomplish these tasks they interact with conspecifics, other organisms, and other elements of their environment. Behaviour thus is the baseline of all animal activities and is continuously modified by cues and clues coming from their environment. Our project, merges animal behaviour and sensory ecology, and aims at studying those cues and clues influencing seabirds? behaviour. Signals coming from other individuals broadcast important information for communication. We are particularly interested in the process of mate choice. This behavioural process in petrels passes through acoustic and olfactory signals giving information on direct or indirect (respectively) benefits that a potential partner may bear to the progeny. Signals coming from the surrounding animals may also influence animal behaviour without an actual communication between individuals. For instance, king penguins may use for their orientation an acoustic landscape formed by all individuals calling in the colony. In this case, what is used by an individual it is not the information directly broadcasted between two individuals, but the constant noise that all the information broadcasted forms in the environment. To test this hypothesis, we aim to study how this acoustic landscape is formed and whether it is actually used to orient. However, in penguins not only cues coming from other individuals may be important for orientation and positioning. Positioning in the colony and thus survival depend also from predators and other environmental features (waves, temperature, rain, flooding etc.). Ultimately, the colony structure may reflect how the birds respond to all the inputs coming from their surroundings. We therefore also need to understand colony formation and dynamics to understand movements of individuals in crowded environments.