Author Interview: Times and partners are a-changin’: relationships between declining food abundance, breeding success, and divorce in a monogamous seabird species

PeerJ talks to David Pelletier about the recently published PeerJ Life & Environment article Times and partners are a-changin’: relationships between declining food abundance, breeding success, and divorce in a monogamous seabird species.

Nest monitoring by David Pelletier © David Pelletier

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a professor-researcher at Cégep de Rimouski since 2007. A “cégep” is a unique educational level in Quebec between high school and university where students follow either a two-year university preparatory program or a three-year technical degree program. The main task of the professors is to teach, but there is a significant and growing percentage of professors who do pedagogical, disciplinary, or applied research. I have been doing disciplinary research in marine ornithology since 2011 and began doctoral studies in 2016, initially on a part-time basis, with Professor Magella Guillemette at the Université du Québec à Rimouski. Passionate about science, the marine environment and birds, my work aims to understand and explain the physiological and behavioral responses of marine avian predators to global changes. I also have an interest in the use of new technologies in both biological research and pedagogy.

A northern gannet flying in front of the Percé Rock in Gaspésie (Quebec, Canada) © Yannick Seyer

Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ?

Seabirds exhibit many strategies to cope with environmental changes during the breeding season and to maximize lifetime reproductive output. One such strategy would be to switch partners (to divorce) after reproductive failure to maximize the chance of success with a better-quality partner or to correct for sub-optimal partnerships. In our paper published in PeerJ, we studied divorce at the population and individual level in northern gannets (Morus bassanus) at Bonaventure Island (Québec, Canada) from 2009 to 2019. We tried to answer the following two questions: when do gannets divorce and why do they divorce?

Northern gannet is a long-lived plunge-diving seabird species, nesting in a colony, highly territorial and aggressive at its nest site and has a wide breeding distribution in the North Atlantic. This species is reported as socially monogamous with the suggestion of mate retention for life. Northern gannet exploits cold, nutrient-rich waters, and relies on seasonally abundant fish stocks including Atlantic mackerel, Atlantic herring, capelin, and sand lance. However, in recent decades, the stocks of most of these fish species have been declining and there has been a decrease in the reproductive success of the northern gannet.

We have shown that there is a strong relationship between mackerel abundance and gannet reproductive success, i.e. in years when the mackerel biomass is lower, the number of young fledged per egg laid is also lower. Gannets struggle to find food to feed their chicks, but they do so by increasing the amount of time spent foraging or by changing their diet to prey that is often of lower quality. We have shown that the divorce rate in the colony increased following a year of high reproductive failure. On the other hand, at the individual level, gannets that divorce increase the probability of improving their reproductive success. Our results support the hypothesis that divorce is an adaptive strategy, an example of behavioral adjustment, beneficial for maintaining reproductive success despite difficult feeding conditions in the marine ecosystem.

Field assistants and David Pelletier © Marie-Ève Labonté-Dupras

What was significant about your findings?

To our knowledge, we have documented for the first time the disruptive effects of prey depletion in a marine ecosystem on the partnership-related reproductive processes of a monogamous population, potentially mediated by higher reproductive costs and physiological stress (we will publish this in a future paper). Considering that the fish stocks consumed by gannets have suffered dramatic declines due to significant and rapid changes in the marine environment and overfishing, divorce may therefore represent an overlooked consequence of global marine change.

How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

I first heard about PeerJ by reading articles that had been published there in my field of study. I liked the content of these articles and I found that the layout of the articles was also pleasant to consult. It was only recently that I realized that it was an open-access journal. I found PeerJ to be innovative on many levels both in terms of submission and article review. I believe that creativity is as necessary for the production of science as it is in its presentation, and PeerJ was in line with my interests and values.

A pair of northern gannets © Catherine Bouchard

Do you have any comments about your overall experience with us?

The fact that a PeerJ LaTeX framework was present on the Overleaf platform helped a lot in the submission process. I appreciated the constructive approach of the academic editor and the reviewers. The interaction between the staff and me was always quick and efficient, but courteous.

Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit?

YES, ABSOLUTELY! Without any hesitation. Here are all the reasons I would recommend PeerJ:

  • It is a peer-reviewed journal with potentially multiple rounds of review.
  • It is a generalist journal in biology, medicine, and the environment with attractive metrics.
  • It is a young journal (2012) but is increasingly recognized and its readership is growing (1M / month).
  • PeerJ has a renowned editorial board including several Nobel Prize winners.
  • It is an Open Access journal that promotes a royalty-free philosophy for the democratization of science.
  • It is a journal that promotes good science rather than novelty and “fads”.
  • PeerJ also suggests a high degree of transparency to all participants in the publication process.
  • The speed of the 1st decision is also very interesting (30 days).
  • The submission platform is simple and user-friendly.
  • Submitting from a LaTeX platform facilitates the process when using this writing mode.
  • For a CEGEP researcher (or any other researcher with a small research budget), PeerJ offers very attractive prices (USD 1395$ or membership of USD 399$ per author… once in a lifetime!)
  • There is also a possibility to publish for free if you commit to reviewing.
  • There are also fewer format constraints on submission, no cover letter…, but a very interesting post-publication service for infographics, videos…
  • I recommend this journal to all my colleagues!

    A small portion of the nests monitored at Ile-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Perce National Park © David Pelletier

    A northern gannet chick about one week old © Dévrig Bouillet


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