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Influence of subtle substrate differences on feeding by shorebirds on intertidal mudflats

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Shallow-feeding shorebirds, dowitchers (Limnodromus griseus and L. scolopaceus), western sandpipers (Calidris mauri), dunlin (C. alpina) and American avocets (Recurvirostra americana), reduced the density of their prey in mudflats with little sand but not in mudflats with a moderate admixture of sand. An experiment in Upper Newport Bay, Southern California, during October and November 1979 to explain the difference in density is described. The effect of sand on shorebird feeding was compared in the field by measuring the times spent feeding in plots where sand had or had not been added, respectively. Increasing the sand content to 14% from 2% in the top centimeter decreased the time spent in treated plots by all species compared to adjacent untreated plots. The prey species were small polychaete and oligochaete worms (0.25 to 1.25 mm wide) similar in diameter to sand grains (0.5 to 1.0 mm). In plots where sand had been added, avocets fed by pecking at the surface in addition to scything, the more common method of feeding on muddy substrates. The results suggest that sand interferes with the detection and or capture of prey that are similar in diameter to small sand grains and explains the differences in the effects of predation by these birds seen on mudflats with a moderate admixture of sand compared to the effects on mudflats with little sand. Differential success in prey capture between one microhabitat and the nest (rather than a reduction in competition, as suggested by some authors) might explain the different use of such habitats.

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Communicated by N. D. Holland, La Jolla

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Quammen, M.L. Influence of subtle substrate differences on feeding by shorebirds on intertidal mudflats. Mar. Biol. 71, 339–343 (1982). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00397050

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  • Common Method
  • Polychaete
  • Prey Species
  • Sand Content
  • Prey Capture