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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

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

K. M. Bowgen*, L. J. Wright, N. A. Calbrade, D. Coker, S. G. Dodd, I. Hainsworth, R. J. Howells, D. S. Hughes, P. Jenks, M. D. Murphy, W. G. Sanderson, R. C. Taylor, N. H. K. Burton

*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 declined from 1997 to 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 analyses of apparent survival and biometrics from ringing, and survey data from the UK Wetland Bird Survey, we investigate how the site’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 in buffering the effects of such changes, i.e. protected secondary habitats can be a vital component of a resilient site network. The findings of this study are useful in understanding how a predator copes with a serious decline in its preferred food stocks, and has wide applicability in planning the management of coastal wetlands and shellfisheries, and the design of resilient protected area networks, in the light of environmental change.