Ecologie Evolutive Empirique, Communication & Coopération

Aurore Ponchon


Doctorante 2010-2013

Campus du CNRS
1919, route de Mende
34293 Montpellier cedex 5

tél : 04 67 61 33 19
fax : 04 67 61 33 36

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Individual behaviours and population responses to environmental changes. Study case in an arctic seabird, the black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla.


Supervisors: Thierry Boulinier and David Grémillet


Keywords : Behavioural ecology, spatial and temporal environmental variability, prospecting, dispersal decisions, colonial seabirds, population dynamics, breeding habitat selection, social information use, breeding performance, long-term surveys, capture-mark-recpatures, GPS loggers, satellite transmitters, Hornøya.


Topic : The aim of my PhD is to explore the links between individual behaviours and population responses to the spatial and temporal variability of environment, with a particular emphasis on breeding habitat selection processes. I explore the role of prospecting behaviours during the breeding season and their consequences on breeding site fidelity but also population dynamics. My model species is the black-legged kittiwake and my study colony is situated on a small norwegian island, Hornøya, in the North of Norway, where a long-term program was started in 1998.

More precisely, I try to acquire some data on the occurrence of large-scale prospecting movements, that is, movements of individuals to other breeding colonies situated several tens of kilometers away from their nesting colony. During these visits, birds are thought to assess the local quality of the breeding area by gathering social information based on the presence or performance of conspecifics. These information can help them choose whether to leave their current breeding site and where to settle to maximise their future breeding performance. To identify such movements, I combine GPS and satellite tracking with an experimental design consisting in putting individuals in breeding failure by removing eggs from their nest during incubation. Thus, I can compare movements but also behaviours adopted by individuals in response to breeding failure or success and I can explore in what conditions prospecting movements are displayed and how it is traded against other activities such as foraging or resting.

A model was also developed to explore the effect of different dispersal strategies on population structure, dynamics and persistence in a variable and heterogenous environment.



Publications :

  • Ponchon A., Grémillet D., Doligez B., Chambert T., Tveraa T., Gonzalès-Solis J., Boulinier T. (2013) Tracking prospecting movements involved in breeding habitat selection: insights, pitfalls and perspectives. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 4: 143-150
  • Authier M., Martin C., Ponchon A., Bentaleb I., Guinet C., (2012) Breaking the sticks : a hierarchical change-point model for estimating ontogenic shifts with stable isotope data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 3(2): 281-290
  • Authier M., Bentaleb I., Ponchon A., Martin C., Guinet C., (2012) Foraging Fidelity as a Recipe for a Long Life: Foraging Strategy and Longevity in Male Southern Elephant Seals. Plos One 7 (4): e32026


In preparation/submitted :

  • Ponchon A., Grémillet D., Authier M., Christensen-Dalsgaard S., Erikstad K.E., Gonzalès Solis J., Barrett R., Reiersten T., Tveraa T., Boulinier T. (in revision) When things go wrong: dynamics of breeding failure in an arctic seabird.
  • Ponchon A., Chambert T., Lobato E., Tverra T., Grémillet D., Boulinier T. (submitted) Manipulated breeding failure induces large-scale prospecting movements in a colonial seabird.
  • Ponchon A., Garnier R., Grémillet D. & Boulinier T. (submitted) Predicting population responses to climate change : the importance of including informed dispersal in spatially structured population models.
  • Ponchon A. Iliszko L., Tveraa Torkild, Grémillet David, Boulinier Thierry (in prep)Intense prospecting movements by failed breeders nesting among failed conspecifics revealed by solar-panelled GPS
  • Ponchon A., Choquet R., Reiertsen T.K., Erikstad K.E., Tornos J., Grémillet D., Boulinier T. (in prep) Capture-recapture surveys and imperfect detection of individuals: does the spatial scale of sampling design matter?
  • Reiertsein Tone K., Erikstad K.E., Anker-Nielssen T., Barrett R.T., Boulinier T., Frederiksen M., Gonzalès-Solís J., Grémillet D., Johns D., Moe B., Ponchon A., Sandvik H., Sker-Maruitzen M. & Yoccoz N.G. (in revision) Prey density in non-breeding areas affects adult survival of black-legged kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla
  • Moe, B., Strøm H., Chastel O., Ponchon A., Anker-Nilssen T.A., Christensen-Dalsgaard S., Clément-Chastel C., González-Solís J., Goutte A., Grémùillet D., Krasnov Y., Philips R.A., Steen H., Boulinier T. (in prep) Post-breeding hotspot in the cold: Multi-colony tracking of kittiwakes in the Barents Sea


Oral presentations :

  • Invited seminar in Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa (Canada), 7 March 2013 . Prospecting movements and breeding habitat selection in the black-legged kittiwake.
  • Workshop on a collaborative project “Climate, drift of fish larvae, fish-stock interactions and their effects on seabird dynamics”, Tromsø (Norway), 3-5 December 2012. When things go wrong, dynamics of breeding failure in a seabird.
  • Lab Department day, CEFE-CNRS, Montpellier (France), 20 September 2012. When things go wrong, dynamics of breeding failure in a seabird.
  • PhD student day, CEFE-CNRS, Montpellier (France), 28 March 2012. Dramatic changes in foraging effort along the breeding season in an Arctic seabird.
  • 11th International Seabird Group Conference, Plymouth (UK), 3-5 September 2011. Identifying large scale prospecting movements: how telemetry can help.
  • 8th Conference of the European Ornithologists' Union, Riga (Latvia), 27-30 August 2011. Large scale prospecting movements in the black-legged kittiwake.
  • Lab Department day, CEFE-CNRS, Montpellier (France), 11 February 2011. Prospecting behaviour and population responses to environmental changes in seabirds