We tested “Ashmole’s halo” hypothesis of food depletion around colonies using a phylogenetic comparative study of 43 species of seabirds (28,262 colonies). We confirmed that foraging range imposes a ceiling on the maximum colony size of seabird species.
Abstract:The reasons for variation in group size among animal species remain poorly understood. Using “Ashmole's halo” hypothesis of food depletion around colonies, we predict that foraging range imposes a ceiling on the maximum colony size of seabird species. We tested this with a phylogenetic comparative study of 43 species of seabirds (28,262 colonies), and investigated the interspecific correlation between colony size and foraging ranges. Foraging range showed weak relationships with the low percentiles of colony size of species, but the strength of the association increased for larger percentiles, peaking at the maximum colony sizes. To model constraints on the functional relationship between the focal traits, we applied a quantile regression based on maximum colony size. This showed that foraging range imposes a constraint to species' maximum colony sizes with a slope around 2. This second-order relationship is expected from the equation of the area of a circle. Thus, our large dataset and innovative statistical approach shows that foraging range imposes a ceiling on seabird colony sizes, providing strong support to the hypothesis that food availability is an important regulator of seabird populations.