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Ecology and Evolution of Prospecting Strategies

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EcoEvoProspectS (Ecology and Evolution of Prospecting Strategies)

Reporting period: 2017-05-01 to 2019-04-30

Prospecting behaviours allow animal species to gather personal and social information on the local quality of potential future breeding sites and help them make dispersal and settlement decisions. As it can have multiple consequences on individual distribution, fitness and population dynamics, exploring the ecology and evolution of prospecting strategies is essential in a context of climate change. Yet, studies dealing with this topic are scarce because of methodological and technological challenges. In this project, I have developed and applied novel theoretical and statistical approaches to deliver major new insights into the adaptive, ecological and evolutionary importance of prospecting strategies in individual and population responses to environmental change. Most of the work demonstrated that informed dispersal has crucial consequences on population structure and persistence through strong density-dependence effects and cannot be ignored in studies aiming at predicting species responses to environmental change.
First, I have developed a new spatially-explicit individual-based modelling framework to explore the ecological and evolutionary consequences of prospecting strategies and informed dispersal on population dynamics and structure. This first work showed that prospecting had crucial consequences on population structure which was mediated by strong density-dependence effects. It also demonstrated that prospecting was always favoured over random dispersal, even when prospecting strategy entailed an additional mortality costs. The second work was derived from the first model and explored the effect of informed dispersal on the dynamics of species range expansion. Finally, a third work still ongoing addressed how informed dispersal evolves when individual personality is considered in dispersal decisions. The main results have been presented at 2 major international conferences as oral presentations and each analysis is/will be presented in journal article that has been/will be submitted to high-ranked international peer-reviewed journals.
In a second part of the project, I have applied a statistical method to identify and quantify prospecting movements at a very fine spatial scale using GPS tracking data from Yellow-Nosed albatrosses nesting in Amsterdam Island (French Subantarctic island). This method showed that although albatrosses are very faithful to their nesting site, individuals which have failed breeding still visit other nesting sites within the same cliff or in neighbouring cliffs. This notably allowed the identification of a new nesting cliff within the island of Amsterdam, a cliff that was thought to be unoccupied so far. An analysis of the at-sea distribution and behavior of failed and successful breeding Yellow-Nosed Albatrosses showed that the two groups partly shared foraging areas and did not differ in their time allocated to foraging, flying and resting on the water. The main results will be presented in manuscripts that will be submitted to high-ranked international peer-reviewed journals
Finally, I have used Rangeshifter software to understand population dynamics and predict range expansion of invasive species.
The project has shown that either empirically or theoretically informed dispersal based on prospecting has crucial ecological and evolutionary consequences at the individual and population level. Therefore, it has to be included when it comes to predict species response to environmental change such as change in land use or climate change. It also demonstrates the strength of combining modelling and statistical approaches using empirical and simulated data to provide insights into complex ecological processes.
Articulation of the project