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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14096

Spatio-temporal diet variability of the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) in the southern California Current Ecosystem

Mark S. Lowry*, Stephanie E. Nehasil, Jeffrey E. Moore

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Characterizing predator diets is essential to understanding food web dynamics. We investigated the dietary breadth and variation of the California sea lion (CSL; Zalophus californianus) at three of the California Channel Islands from 1981 ‒ 2015. Prey species were identified from hard parts and soft-tissue remains of pyrosomes recovered from fecal samples, revealing a diverse diet of fish and cephalopods. Percent frequency of occurrence and percent split-sample frequency of occurrence were used to describe long-term trends, correlations between prey taxa, diet diversity, and diet similarity. The most common of 142 prey taxa identified to species were market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens), northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax), shortbelly rockfish (Sebastes jordani), jack mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus), Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax), Pacific hake (Merluccius productus), and Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus). Dietary differences were observed between male and female sea lions, and between animals from different islands and seasons. Intra-island diets at two locations were more similar than inter-island diets. Important inter-annual and decadal changes in diet were identified. CSL diet shifted from an anchovy-based diet in the 1980s to a market squid based-diet in the 1990s and 2000s, with other prey taxa being consumed more frequently when consumption of those two main prey declined. Prey-switching likely provides flexibility needed in the dynamic California Current Ecosystem, and may allow CSLs to adapt to changes in food supply and availability driven by climate change.