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Sea otter foraging on deep-burrowing bivalves in a California coastal lagoon

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Sea otter, Enhydra lutris, predation had no detectable effect on abundance and size distribution of deep-burrowing bivalve prey in the Elkhorn Slough, California, USA. Up to 23 otters were present for 6 mo of the study period (March 1984 through April 1985). This is in contrast to previous studies of sea otter predation, especially on the shallow-burrowing Pismo clam Tivela stultorum, which can be found along the wave-exposed coast near the slough. The deep-burrowing clams Tresus nuttallii and Saxidomus nuttalli made up 61% of the prey taken in the slough, and are more difficult for otters to excavate than Pismo clams. The occurrence of foraging otters was highest in an area where the two bivalve prey were extremely abundant (∼18 individuals m−2). However, the otters did not selectively prey on the largest clams available within the study sight, but foraged preferentially in a patch of smaller individuals where bivalve burrow depth was restricted by the presence of a dense clay layer. This foraging strategy maximized the amount of prey biomass obtained per unit volume of sediment excavated. Our findings suggest that in soft-sediment habitats deep-burrowing bivalves may be more resistant to otter predation than shallower burrowers.

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Communicated by R. S. Carney, Baton Rouge

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Kvitek, R.G., Fukayama, A.K., Anderson, B.S. et al. Sea otter foraging on deep-burrowing bivalves in a California coastal lagoon. Mar. Biol. 98, 157–167 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00391191

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  • Biomass
  • Clay
  • Bivalve
  • Unit Volume
  • Detectable Effect