Food is heterogeneously distributed in nature, and understanding how animals search for and exploit food patches is a fundamental challenge in ecology. The classic marginal value theorem (MVT) formulates optimal patch residence time in response to patch quality. The MVT was generally proved in controlled animal experiments; however, owing to the technical difficulties in recording foraging behaviour in the wild, it has been inadequately examined in natural predator-prey systems, especially those in the three-dimensional marine environment. Using animal-borne accelerometers and video cameras, we collected a rare dataset in which the behaviour of a marine predator (penguin) was recorded simultaneously with the capture timings of mobile, patchily distributed prey (krill). We provide qualitative support for the MVT by showing that (i) krill capture rate diminished with time in each dive, as assumed in the MVT, and (ii) dive duration (or patch residence time, controlled for dive depth) increased with short-term, dive-scale krill capture rate, but decreased with long-term, bout-scale krill capture rate, as predicted from the MVT. Our results demonstrate that a single environmental factor (i.e. patch quality) can have opposite effects on animal behaviour depending on the time scale, emphasizing the importance of multi-scale approaches in understanding complex foraging strategies.
Keywords: Adélie penguin; Antarctic krill; biologging; marine predator.