MEPS prepress abstract  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12407

Evaluating three-dimensional foraging habitat use and niche partitioning in two sympatrically nesting seabird species—double-crested and Brandt’s cormorants

Adam G. Peck-Richardson*, Donald E. Lyons, Daniel D. Roby, Daniel A. Cushing, James A. Lerczak

*Email: peckrichardson@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Ecological theory predicts that co-existing, morphologically similar species will partition prey resources when faced with resource limitations. We investigated local movements, foraging dive behavior, and foraging habitat selection by breeding adults of two closely related cormorant species, double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) and Brandt’s cormorants (P. penicillatus). These species nest sympatrically at East Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary at the border of Oregon and Washington states, USA. Breeding individuals of each species were tracked using GPS tags with integrated temperature and depth data-loggers (GPS-TDlog, Earth & Ocean Technologies). The overall foraging areas and core foraging areas (defined as the 95% and 50% kernel density estimates of dive locations, respectively) of double-crested cormorants were much larger and covered a broader range of riverine, mixed-estuarine, and nearshore marine habitats. Brandt’s cormorant foraging areas were less expansive, were exclusively marine, and mostly overlapped with double-crested cormorant foraging areas. Within these areas of overlap, Brandt’s cormorants tended to dive deeper (median depth = 6.48 m) than double-crested cormorants (median depth = 2.67 m), and selected dive locations where the water was deeper. Brandt’s cormorants also utilized a deeper, more benthic portion of the water column than did double-crested cormorants. Nevertheless, the substantial overlap in foraging habitat between the two cormorant species in the Columbia River estuary, particularly for Brandt’s cormorants, suggests that superabundant prey resources allow these two large and productive cormorant colonies to coexist on a single island near the mouth of the Columbia River.