MEPS 569:227-242 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12069

Differential impacts of foraging plasticity by greater flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus on intertidal soft sediments

Kirti N. Gihwala1,*, Deena Pillay1, Melvin Varughese2

1Marine Research Institute, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, Cape Town, South Africa
2Centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation, Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, Cape Town, South Africa
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Predation has been a central theme in marine ecological research. However, little is known about plasticity displayed by predators and its consequences for prey assemblages in marine soft-sediment ecosystems. Here, we test the repercussions of 2 different foraging behaviours exhibited by greater flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus on benthic assemblages in intertidal sandflat ecosystems in South Africa. P. roseus feeds by either (1) creating pits, which involves flamingos stirring up deep sediments with their feet; or (2) creating channels, in which their inverted bills are swept from side to side on the sediment surface. Comparisons of assemblages in newly formed foraging structures (pits and channels) with adjacent non-foraged sediments (controls) indicated that the foraging behaviours generate differential effects on benthic communities. Contrary to our hypothesis, channel foraging elicited a stronger negative impact relative to pit foraging, for which impacts were negligible. Channel foraging had strong negative impacts on macrofaunal abundance and surface-dwelling taxa such as microalgae and the amphipod Urothoe grimaldii. Our results also revealed that variation in the size of the channels constructed by flamingos, which is a more subtle form of foraging plasticity, was inversely related to its impact. In effect, smaller channels had greater impacts on community abundance than larger ones. Overall, the study highlights the contrasting effects foraging plasticity can have on prey assemblages and its key role in driving spatial-temporal heterogeneity in intertidal sandflats. The study also highlights the need to incorporate foraging plasticity into current conceptual models of predation in marine soft sediments. 


KEY WORDS: Phoenicopteridae · Predation · Intertidal · Community structure · Ecosystem functioning


Full text in pdf format 
Cite this article as: Gihwala KN, Pillay D, Varughese M (2017) Differential impacts of foraging plasticity by greater flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus on intertidal soft sediments. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 569:227-242. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12069

Export citation
Mail this link - Contents Mailing Lists - RSS
- -