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Trophic ecology of a migratory shorebird community at a globally important non-breeding site: combining DNA metabarcoding and conventional techniques

Edna Correia*, José Pedro Granadeiro, Bárbara Santos, Aissa Regalla, Vanessa A. Mata, Teresa Catry

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Studies providing a detailed diet description of whole-bird communities are surprisingly scarce. Yet, these studies are pivotal to comprehend the mechanisms structuring communities and the persistence of each species in the ecosystem. We characterize the diet of a shorebird community in a key non-breeding area of the East Atlantic Flyway, the Bijagós Archipelago (West Africa), combining molecular and morphological prey identification based on 239 droppings from 15 species. Our results show that while relying upon a super-abundant prey (the fiddler crab), shorebirds consume a very high number of taxa. We stress the relevance of highly mobile prey (specially crustaceans but also fish), which typically appear with little importance in most shorebird studies. Our results suggest that by consuming a high diversity of prey, shorebirds may reduce competition. This may be critical in a site ranked as the second most important area in West Africa for migratory shorebirds but marked by low benthic invertebrate availability. We further compare the performance of DNA metabarcoding and morphological identification of prey. Overall, molecular and morphological methods combined deliver the most comprehensive results, although molecular largely surpassed morphological methods regarding taxonomic detail achieved and number of prey taxa found (four times more). Taxonomic resolution in the identification of polychaetes and bivalves using the 16S primer was low (mostly to class), whereas this primer clearly performed better than COI in identifying more insects and fish. We emphasize the need to increase invertebrate representatives from West Africa in barcode databases, in order to enhance metabarcoding results.