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Flooding regimes increase avian predation on wildlife prey in tidal marsh ecosystems

March 8, 2019

Within isolated and fragmented populations, species interactions such as predation can cause shifts in community structure and demographics in tidal marsh ecosystems. It is critical to incorporate species interactions into our understanding when evaluating the effects of sea‐level rise and storm surges on tidal marshes. In this study, we hypothesize that avian predators will increase their presence and hunting activities during high tides when increased inundation makes their prey more vulnerable. We present evidence that there is a relationship between tidal inundation depth and time of day on the presence, abundance, and behavior of avian predators. We introduce predation pressure as a combined probability of predator presence related to water level. Focal surveys were conducted at four tidal marshes in the San Francisco Bay, California where tidal inundation patterns were monitored across 6 months of the winter. Sixteen avian predator species were observed. During high tide at Tolay Slough marsh, ardeids had a 29‐fold increase in capture attempts and 4 times greater apparent success rate compared with low tide. Significantly fewer raptors and ardeids were found on low tides than on high tides across all sites. There were more raptors in December and January and more ardeids in January than in other months. Ardeids were more prevalent in the morning, while raptors did not exhibit a significant response to time of day. Modeling results showed that raptors had a unimodal response to water level with a peak at 0.5 m over the marsh platform, while ardeids had an increasing response with water level. We found that predation pressure is related to flooding of the marsh surface, and short‐term increases in sea levels from high astronomical tides, sea‐level rise, and storm surges increase vulnerability of tidal marsh wildlife.

Publication Year 2019
Title Flooding regimes increase avian predation on wildlife prey in tidal marsh ecosystems
DOI 10.1002/ece3.4792
Authors Karen M. Thorne, Kyle A. Spragens, Kevin J. Buffington, Jordan A. Rosencranz, John Takekawa
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70202540
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center