MEPS 329:131-144 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps329131

Effects of predation by sea ducks on clam abundance in soft-bottom intertidal habitats

Tyler L. Lewis1, Daniel Esler2,*, W. Sean Boyd3

1Centre for Wildlife Ecology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada
2Centre for Wildlife Ecology, Simon Fraser University, 5421 Robertson Road, Delta, British Columbia V4K 3N2, Canada
3Canadian Wildlife Service, 5421 Robertson Road, Delta, British Columbia V4K 3N2, Canada
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Recent studies have documented strong, top-down predation effects of sea ducks on mussel populations in rocky intertidal communities. However, the impact of these gregarious predators in soft-bottom communities has been largely unexplored. We evaluated effects of predation by wintering surf scoters Melanitta perspicillata and white-winged scoters M. fusca on clam populations in soft-bottom intertidal habitats of the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia. Specifically, we documented spatial and temporal variation in clam density (clams m–2), scoter diet composition, and the consequences of scoter predation on clam abundance. Of the 3 most numerous clams, Manila clams Venerupis philippinarum and varnish clams Nuttallia obscurata were the primary prey items of both scoter species, while clams of the genus Macoma were rarely consumed by scoters. Between scoter arrival in the fall and departure in the spring, Manila clams decreased in density at most sample sites, while varnish clam densities did not change or declined slightly. Our estimates of numbers of clams consumed by scoters accounted for most of the observed declines in combined abundance of Manila and varnish clams, despite the presence of numerous other vertebrate and invertebrate species known to consume clams. For Macoma spp., we detected an over-winter increase in density, presumably due to growth of clams too small to be retained by our sieve (<5 mm) during fall sampling, in addition to the lack of predation pressure by scoters. These results illustrate the strong predation potential of scoters in soft-bottom intertidal habitats, as well as their potentially important role in shaping community structure.


KEY WORDS: Sea duck · Surf scoter · White-winged scoter · Soft-bottom intertidal · Prey depletion · Nuttallia obscurata · Venerupis philippinarum


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