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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 291:275-287 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps291275

Spatial associations between seabirds and prey: effects of large-scale prey abundance on small-scale seabird distribution

Lucy S. Vlietstra*

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA*
Present address: Section of Marine Science, Department of Science, 27 Mohegan Dr., US Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut 06320, USA

ABSTRACT: The purpose of this study was to examine whether variation in the extent to which marine birds track prey over small spatial scales can be attributed, in part, to fluctuations in regional prey abundance. The distributions of 4 marine bird species were compared to the distribution of acoustically determined prey biomass on days with contrasting prey abundances measured over a 10 × 20 km (regional) spatial scale. Spatial associations were measured at smaller (local) spatial scales, ranging from 0.2 to 7.6 km. Spatial concordance (i.e. overlap) between the distribution of acoustic biomass and the rhinoceros auklet Cerorhinca monocerata and between acoustic biomass and the Pacific loon Gavia pacifica at the smallest spatial scale (0.2 km) was greater on days when regional prey abundance was relatively low than on days when regional prey abundance was relatively high. This pattern was not evident in Brandt’s cormorant Phalacrocorax penicillatus or the common murre Uria aalge. The densities of all 4 marine bird species examined were, however, only significantly correlated with densities of acoustic biomass on days when regional prey abundance was relatively low. I propose that short-term fluctuations in regional prey abundance account for some of the widespread variation previously observed in the strength of spatial associations between marine birds and their prey.

KEY WORDS: Predator-prey interactions · Spatial relationships · Numerical concordance · Hydroacoustic surveys · Marine bird distribution · Foraging behavior

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