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Comparative Feeding Ecology of Shorebirds Wintering at Banc d’Arguin, Mauritania

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Abstract

Limited knowledge of shorebird feeding ecology in the tropics hinders interpretation of considerable changes in numbers recently observed at the most important shorebird nonbreeding area along the East Atlantic Flyway, the Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania. We used droppings and video recordings to compare the diet and foraging behaviour of six shorebird species at Banc d’Arguin: dunlin, sanderling, red knot, ringed plover, grey plover and bar-tailed godwit. In four of those species, the detail achieved in prey identification allowed us to calculate niche width and foraging niche overlap. Sanderling and ringed plover consumed a wide range of macroinvertebrate taxa, while red knot consumed mainly bivalves with some gastropods, and both grey plover and bar-tailed godwit fed mainly on polychaete worms. A large proportion of dunlin droppings had no recognizable food items, suggesting a soft-bodied prey that we could not identify. Dunlin was the only strictly tactile forager, while sanderling and red knot used both visual and tactile methods. The remaining species resort to visual cues for catching prey, even though tactile cues may be important for bar-tailed godwits. Dunlin, sanderling, red knot and ringed plover all showed relatively narrow trophic niches and non-significant levels of foraging niche overlap. Overall, the diet of each shorebird was broadly similar to that reported from other parts of their wintering ranges, with more gastropods in the red knot diet than previously described. Our data suggest that the high shorebird densities at Banc d’Arguin despite low benthic food densities (Hydrobiologia 258:211-222, 1993a; Journal of Sea Research 60:235-243, 2008) may result partly from partitioning of available resources via narrow trophic niches with little overlap. Given these distinct trophic niches, the widespread declines in shorebird numbers at Banc d’Arguin may reflect changes in a wide range of prey types and suggest a shift in the overall properties of this unique ecosystem.

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Acknowledgments

Expeditions to Banc d’Arguin received logistic support from Parc National du Banc d’Arguin (PNBA). We thank the director of PNBA, to Lemhaba Ould Yarba research officer of the Park, and to the PNBA’s staff in Iwik. Dr António Araújo (Fondation Internationale du Banc d’Arguin—FIBA) provided crucial support and advice during our expedition preparation, and colleagues from NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, particularly Dr Piet van den Hout and Dr Jan van Gils, are thanked for their help with logistics and sharing their research expertise at PNBA. We would also like to thank José Alves for his help during field work in Mauritania, Camilo Carneiro who collaborated both in field sampling and in the analysis of video recordings, and Mohamed Salem for help identifying benthic macroinvertebrates. Two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor provided constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper. This study was supported by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT), through Project “Invisible Links” (PTDC/MAR/119920/2010), strategic project UID/AMB/50017/2013 and postdoctoral grants to TC (SFRH/BPD/102255/2014) and PML (SFRH/BPD/84237/2012). The work by TP at BdA has been facilitated by operational grants from Royal NIOZ, by the NWO-ALW TOP grant ‘Shorebirds in space’ (854.11.004) and an NWO WOTRO Integrated Programme grant (W.01.65.221.00).

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Correspondence to Pedro M. Lourenço.

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Lourenço, P.M., Catry, T., Piersma, T. et al. Comparative Feeding Ecology of Shorebirds Wintering at Banc d’Arguin, Mauritania. Estuaries and Coasts 39, 855–865 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-015-0029-1

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