Giant petrels (Macronectes spp) are the most sexually dimorphic of all seabirds. We used satellite-tracking and mass change during incubation to investigate the influence of sexual size dimorphism, in terms of the intersexual food competition hypothesis, on foraging and fasting strategies of northern giant petrels at South Georgia. Females foraged at sea whereas males foraged mainly on the South Georgia coast, scavenging on seal and penguin carcasses. Foraging effort (flight speed, distance covered, duration of foraging trips) was greater for females than for males. In contrast, foraging efficiency (proportionate daily mass gain while foraging) was significantly greater for males than for females. Females were significantly closer to the desertion mass threshold than ales and could not compensate for the mass loss during the incubation fast while foraging, suggesting greater incubation costs for females than for males. Both sexes regulated the duration and food intake of foraging trips depending on the depletion of the body reserves. In males the total mass gain was best explained by mass at departure and body size. We suggest that sexual segregation of foraging strategies arose from size-related dominance at carcasses, promoting sexual size dimorphism. Our results indicate that sex-specific differences in fasting endurance, contest competition over food and flight metabolic rates are key elements in maintenance of sexual size dimorphism, segregating foraging strategies and presumably reducing competition between sexes.
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