, Volume 147, Issue 6, pp 1459-1466
Date: 21 Jul 2005

Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) and salmon: genetics presents hard numbers for elucidating predator-prey dynamics

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We used a PCR-based species test and microsatellite genotyping to determine salmonid species composition and quantity of Chinook among Pacific harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) prey. Tests were applied to DNA extracted from all salmonid bones recovered from scat (fecal) samples. Condition of bone samples and quantity of DNA varied substantially. Although DNA extraction and species identification was only successful for just over half of the bone samples, 93% of all scat samples had bones that were identified to species. Most often only a single salmonid prey species was evident within a scat sample (39% exclusively coho and 46% exclusively Chinook) but 13% contained bones from more than one species of salmonid. For scat samples that contained Chinook bones, 68% had skeletal remains from the same fish and 32% had bones from more than one individual Chinook, varying in number from two to four individuals per scat. In one case, bones from one individual Chinook were recovered in three different scat samples.

Communicated by P. W. Sammarco, Chauvin