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Light- and flotsam-dependent ‘float-and-wait’ foraging by pelagic sea snakes (Pelamis platurus)
Brischoux, F.; Lillywhite, H.B. (2011). Light- and flotsam-dependent ‘float-and-wait’ foraging by pelagic sea snakes (Pelamis platurus). Mar. Biol. (Berl.) 158(10): 2343-2347.
In: Marine Biology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0025-3162; e-ISSN 1432-1793, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Brischoux, F.
  • Lillywhite, H.B.

    Efficient detection of food patches in oceanic areas by pelagic predators is often linked to large-scale physical structures (e.g. fronts, upwellings) that are usually rich and predictable. At smaller scales, however, predictability of resource becomes less clear because of the lability of smaller physical structures such as slicks and drift lines. Here, we explore how light levels and quantity of flotsam affect the occurrence of foraging Yellow-bellied sea snakes (Pelamis platurus) on slicks. Although this pelagic species was formerly hypothesised to surface randomly and drift passively to reach slicks, our results show that foraging snakes are far more abundant on slicks if light levels are high and if slicks display flotsam. The combination of both light and flotsam should enhance the contrast between a potentially favourable slick and the adjacent waters as seen from an underwater viewpoint. Although our results do not unambiguously demonstrate the ability of Pelamis platurus to visually detect surface drift lines, they clearly suggest a role of both light levels and amount of flotsam on surfacing decision. Accordingly, this hypothesis is supported by several complementary traits that are specific to this species. ‘Float-and-wait’ foraging undoubtedly requires efficient detection of, and orientation to, oceanic slicks—processes that are likely less random and passive than formerly believed. Successful pelagic foraging is no doubt important to this species of sea snake that is the world’s most widely distributed snake species.

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