A bird’s-eye view on turbulence: seabird foraging associations with evolving surface flow features

Lilian Lieber, Roland Langrock, W. Alex M. NImmo-Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
45 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding physical mechanisms underlying seabird foraging is fundamental to predict responses to coastal change. For instance, turbulence in the
water arising from natural or anthropogenic structures can affect foraging
opportunities in tidal seas. Yet, identifying ecologically important localized
turbulence features (e.g. upwellings approximately 10–100 m) is limited by
observational scale, and this knowledge gap is magnified in volatile predators. Here, using a drone-based approach, we present the tracking of surface-foraging terns (143 trajectories belonging to three tern species) and dynamic
turbulent surface flow features in synchrony. We thereby provide the earliest
evidence that localized turbulence features can present physical foraging
cues. Incorporating evolving vorticity and upwelling features within a
hidden Markov model, we show that terns were more likely to actively
forage as the strength of the underlying vorticity feature increased, while
conspicuous upwellings ahead of the flight path presented a strong physical
cue to stay in transit behaviour. This clearly encapsulates the importance of
prevalent turbulence features as localized foraging cues. Our quantitative
approach therefore offers the opportunity to unlock knowledge gaps in
seabird sensory and foraging ecology on hitherto unobtainable scales.
Finally, it lays the foundation to predict responses to coastal change to
inform sustainable ocean development.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20210592
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2021


  • seabirds
  • Tidal energy
  • Ocean Energy
  • Drones
  • Tracking
  • Predators
  • Oceanography
  • Hydrodynamics
  • terns


Dive into the research topics of 'A bird’s-eye view on turbulence: seabird foraging associations with evolving surface flow features'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this