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Jetz, W., Steffen, J., & Linsenmair, K. E. (2003). Effects of light and prey availability on nocturnal, lunar and seasonal activity of tropical nightjars. Oikos, 103(3), 627–639.
Abstract: Nightjars and their allies represent the only major group of visually hunting aerial insectivores with a crepuscular and/or nocturnal lifestyle. Our purpose was to examine how both light regime and prey abundance in the tropics, where periods of twilight are extremely short, but nightjar diversity is high, affect activity across different temporal scales. We studied two nightjar species in West African bush savannah, standard-winged nightjars Macrodipteryx longipennis Shaw and long-tailed nightjars Caprimulgus climacurus Vieillot. We measured biomass of potential prey available using a vehicle mounted trap and found that it was highest at dusk and significantly lower at dawn and during the night. Based on direct observations, both nightjars exhibit the most intense foraging behaviour at dusk, less intense foraging at dawn and least at night, as predicted by both prey abundance and conditions for visual prey detection. Nocturnal foraging was positively correlated with lunar light levels and ceased below about 0.03 mW m−2. Over the course of a lunar cycle, nocturnal light availability varied markedly, while prey abundance remained constant at dusk and at night was slightly higher at full moon. Both species increased twilight foraging activity during new moon periods, compensating for the shorter nocturnal foraging window at that time. Seasonally, the pattern of nocturnal light availability was similar throughout the year, while prey availability peaked shortly after onset of the wet season and then slowly decreased over the following four months. The courtship and breeding phenology of both species was timed to coincide with the peak in aerial insect abundance, suggesting that prey availability rather than direct abiotic factors act as constraints, at least at the seasonal level. Our findings illustrate the peculiar constraints on visually orienting aerial nocturnal insectivores in general and tropical nightjars in particular and highlight the resulting nocturnal, lunar and seasonal allocation of activities.