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Stable Isotope Analysis Reveals That Agricultural Habitat Provides an Important Dietary Component for Nonbreeding Dunlin

Author(s): Lesley Joan Evans Ogden | Keith A. Hobson | David B. Lank | Shabtai Bittman

Journal: Avian Conservation and Ecology
ISSN 1712-6568

Volume: 1;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 3;
Date: 2005;
Original page

Keywords: carbon-13 | nitrogen-15 | shorebirds | non-breeding ecology | supratidal habitat use | Calidris alpina pacifica | diet

Although shorebirds spending the winter in temperate areas frequently use estuarine and supratidal (upland) feeding habitats, the relative contribution of each habitat to individual diets has not been directly quantified. We quantified the proportional use that Calidris alpina pacifica (Dunlin) made of estuarine vs. terrestrial farmland resources on the Fraser River Delta, British Columbia, using stable isotope analysis (δ13C, δ15N) of blood from 268 Dunlin over four winters, 1997 through 2000. We tested for individual, age, sex, morphological, seasonal, and weather-related differences in dietary sources. Based on single- (δ13C) and dual-isotope mixing models, the agricultural habitat contributed approximately 38% of Dunlin diet averaged over four winters, with the balance from intertidal flats. However, there was a wide variation among individuals in the extent of agricultural feeding, ranging from about 1% to 95% of diet. Younger birds had a significantly higher terrestrial contribution to diet (43%) than did adults (35%). We estimated that 6% of adults and 13% of juveniles were obtaining at least 75% of their diet from terrestrial sources. The isotope data provided no evidence for sex or overall body size effects on the proportion of diet that is terrestrial in origin. The use of agricultural habitat by Dunlin peaked in early January. Adult Dunlin obtained a greater proportion of their diet terrestrially during periods of lower temperatures and high precipitation, whereas no such relationship existed for juveniles. Seasonal variation in the use of agricultural habitat suggests that it is used more during energetically stressful periods. The terrestrial farmland zone appears to be consistently important as a habitat for juveniles, but for adults it may provide an alternative feeding site used as a buffer against starvation during periods of extreme weather. Loss or reduction of agricultural habitat adjacent to estuaries may negatively impact shorebird fitness, with juveniles disproportionately affected.

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