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. 2018 Dec 12;13(12):e0208995.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0208995. eCollection 2018.

Utility of Time-Lapse Photography in Studies of Seabird Ecology

Free PMC article

Utility of Time-Lapse Photography in Studies of Seabird Ecology

Federico De Pascalis et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


Marine ecosystems are heavily influenced by a wide range of human-related impacts, and thus monitoring is essential to preserve and manage these sensitive habitats. Seabirds are considered important bioindicators of the oceans, but accessing breeding populations can be difficult, expensive and time consuming. New technologies have been employed to facilitate data collection on seabirds that can reduce costs and minimize disturbance. Among these, the use of time-lapse photography is a potentially effective way to reduce researcher effort, while collecting valuable information on key ecological parameters. However, the feasibility of this approach remains uncertain. Here, we assessed the use of time-lapse photography as a tool for estimating foraging behaviour from breeding seabirds, and evaluate ways forward for this method. We deployed cameras in front of active nests at a colony of black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) during two breeding seasons, 5 nests in 2013 and 5 in 2014, taking pictures every 4 minutes. A subsample of monitored individuals were also equipped with accelerometers. Approximately 100,000 frames, covering incubation and chick-rearing periods, were analysed. Estimates of foraging trip duration from images were positively correlated with accelerometry estimates (R2 = 0.967). Equal partitioning of effort between pairs, predation events, nest attendance patterns and variation in trip metrics with breeding stage were also identified. Our results suggest that time-lapse photography is potentially a useful tool for assessing foraging trip duration and other fine-scale nesting ecology parameters as well as for assessing the effect of bio-logging devices on seabird foraging behaviour. Nevertheless, the time investment to manually extract data from images was high, and the process to set up cameras was not straightforward. To encourage wide use of time-lapse photography in seabird ecology, we thus provide guidelines for camera deployment and we suggest a need for further development of automated approaches to allow data extraction.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Time away from nest as a proxy of foraging trip duration.
Correlation between time away from nest (recorded with cameras) and foraging trip duration (recorded with accelerometers) of kittiwakes from Puffin Island, North Wales. 95% confidence interval is shown in grey.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Nest departure frequency of kittiwakes from Puffin Island, North Wales.
Mean departure frequency (± SE) per hour of the day during incubation and chick-rearing periods.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Example camera image showing night predation at kittiwake nest at the Puffin Island colony, North Wales.
Peregrine falcon predation event on a chick at night, during the 2014 breeding season is shown. Time and date are displayed, and peregrine is indicated with a blue circle.
Fig 4
Fig 4. Length of “scared trips” in kittiwakes from Puffin Island, North Wales.
Differences in trip duration of kittiwakes when scared by humans and peregrines.
Fig 5
Fig 5. Number of foraging trips of kittiwakes from Puffin Island, North Wales.
The index, accounting for gaps in camera data, shows differences in number of foraging trips between incubation and chick-rearing periods.
Fig 6
Fig 6. Foraging trip duration during different breeding stages for kittiwakes from Puffin Island, North Wales.
Least squares means (± SE) of foraging trip durations from the fitted GLMM model are shown during incubation and chick rearing.

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Grant support

FDP was founded by an Erasmus+ Traineeship grant from the University of Trieste (Agreement N. 2015/2016-88, PMC was supported by a studentship from the University of Roehampton ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.