Sydney: Little penguins are more likely to work together to hunt schooling prey rather than solitary prey, a new study has found.
Group foraging in cooperative animals provides predators with advantages over prey, but for less cooperative colonial-breeding predators, like the little penguins, the benefits of group foraging are less clear due to the potential for competition between penguins.
"This study showed little penguins gained no benefit in capturing prey when from hunting in groups, suggesting individuals may forage in groups to improve detection of prey or avoid predation but, once they find prey, it is every penguin for themselves," said Grace Sutton from the Deakin University in Australia.
The scientist used animal-borne cameras on 21 little penguins from two breeding colonies in southeastern Australia to determine the prey types, hunting strategies, and success of little penguins, a small, marine predator that extensively forages with other little penguins.
The researchers found that little penguins had a higher probability of associating with each other when hunting schooling prey than when encountering solitary prey.
Surprisingly, individuals were no more successful at capturing schooling prey than solitary prey.
However, success preying on schooling fish was similar or greater when individual penguins hunted on their own rather than together.
The researchers suggested that individual penguins may trade-off the potential benefits of solitary hunting to increase the probability of detecting prey by associating with other little penguins.
The study was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.