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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 681:211-225 (2022)  -  DOI:

Resilient protected area network enables species adaptation that mitigates the impact of a crash in food supply

K. M. Bowgen1,2,*, L. J. Wright3, N. A. Calbrade2, D. Coker4, S. G. Dodd3, I. Hainsworth5, R. J. Howells6, D. S. Hughes7, P. Jenks8, M. D. Murphy9, W. G. Sanderson10, R. C. Taylor1, N. H. K. Burton2

1British Trust for Ornithology Cymru, Thoday Building, Deiniol Road, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK
2British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU, UK
3RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, The Lodge, Potton Road, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, UK
4Woodacross, Upperfields, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1LE, UK
5Goldcrest Way, Four Marks, Alton, Hampshire GU34 5FE, UK
6Ynys Enlli, 14 Dolgoy Close, Westcross, Swansea SA3 5LT, UK
734 Ferry Road, Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire SA17 5BJ, UK
8Brynelwyn, Blenwaun, Whitland, Carmarthenshire SA34 0JS, UK
9Marine and Freshwater Ecosystem Group, Natural Resources Wales, Maes y Ffynnon, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DW, UK
10Centre for Marine Biodiversity & Biotechnology, ILES, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh EH14 4AS, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: With coastal wader populations exhibiting long-term declines globally, understanding how they respond to changes in their preferred prey is important for future predictions, especially given the potential for warming seas to affect invertebrate populations. The cockle Cerastoderma edule population in the Burry Inlet Special Protection Area (SPA) in south Wales, UK, declined from 1997-2004 before an abrupt ‘crash’ in stocks between 2004 and 2010. While there has been some recovery since, stocks of larger cockles are still very low. Using survey data from the UK Wetland Bird Survey and analyses of apparent survival and biometrics from ringing, we investigated how the Burry Inlet SPA’s wintering Eurasian oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus population responded to this crash. Our analysis showed that both body condition and apparent survival of wintering adult oystercatchers were reduced in the years following the cockle crash but both recovered. The number of birds using the Burry Inlet SPA decreased through the course of the cockle stock decline whilst numbers of birds in the adjacent Carmarthen Bay increased, indicating the importance of adjacent sites for buffering the effects of such changes, i.e. protected secondary habitats can be a vital component of a resilient site network. Our findings are useful in understanding how a predator copes with a serious decline in its preferred food stocks. This study has wide applicability in planning the management of coastal wetlands and shellfisheries as well as the design of resilient protected area networks in the light of environmental change.

KEY WORDS: Shorebirds · Shellfish mortality · Foraging · Apparent survival · Capture-mark-recapture analysis · Charadriiformes

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Cite this article as: Bowgen KM, Wright LJ, Calbrade NA, Coker D and others (2022) Resilient protected area network enables species adaptation that mitigates the impact of a crash in food supply. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 681:211-225.

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