, Volume 120, Issue 4, pp 627-638

Habitats and tidal accessibility of the marine foods of dabbling ducks and brant in Boundary Bay, British Columbia

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Abstract

The role of birds in intertidal food webs is mediated by effects of tides on the habitat, distribution, and accessibility of food organisms. We studied effects of elevation, sediment characteristics, vegetation, and tidal cycles on waterfowl feeding and food organisms in Boundary Bay, British Columbia, Canada from September to March 1990–1992. Percent dry mass of esophageal contents was mainly Zostera japonica leaves (84%) for American wigeon (Anas americana Gmelin), and leaves of Z. japonica (57%) and Z. marina (41%) for brant (Branta bernicla L.). Northern pintails (A. acuta L.) and mallards (A. platyrhynchos L.) ate mostly the leaves, seeds, and rhizomes of Z. japonica (48 and 72%, respectively) and gastropods (12 and 28%). Green-winged teal (A. crecca L.) ate mainly amphipods (68%) and saltmarsh seeds (19%). The well-sorted fine sand (median 0.125 mm) to medium sand (0.25 mm), and the low organic carbon content (1.31±0.12% dry mass), did not appear to vary sufficiently along 2.1- and 2.6-km transects to affect macroinvertebrate distributions. Three habitat zones were recognized: (1) upper intertidal (sandflats); (2) mid-intertidal (largely monotypic Z. japonica); and (3) lower intertidal (mixed Z. japonica and Z. marina). These zones, although related to elevation, had greater influence on amphipod distributions than did elevation alone or detrital biomass. Biomass and numbers of most invertebrate foods of waterfowl were greatest in the eelgrass zones, with the upper elevational limit of Z. japonica occurring at about Mean Water Level (MWL). Accordingly, wigeon, pintails, and mallards fed mostly below MWL. Because of seasonal tidal cycles, daily accessibility of areas below MWL but within reach of surfacefeeding waterfowl decreased from a mean of 10.8 h in October to 9.6 h in December. In October only 10 d and <12 h available feeding time, whereas in December and January every day had <12 h available feeding time. Seasonal effects of tides on accessibility might limit sufficient feeding by some waterfowl species in intertidal areas, increasing their reliance on alternative feeding sites.

Communicated by J. P. Grassle, New Brunswick