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Modeling coupled dynamics of an empirical predator-prey system to predict top predator recovery

May 16, 2024

Limited data, time, and funding lead conservation managers to make difficult choices in managing species recovery. Coupled dynamical models are relied upon for decision support, but their application to empirical predator-prey systems has generally been restricted to small, tractable species. To broaden their use in conservation decision-making, we developed a model suitable for predicting the population dynamics of a larger apex carnivore and its prey. We selected southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) and their primary estuarine prey as our case study and parameterized the dynamical model with data on sea otter, clam, and crab abundances; predator-prey interactions; and sea otter bioenergetics collected from Elkhorn Slough, CA. Our model, having integrated all these salient factors, was able to successfully reproduce trends in taxa abundance as well as shifts in sea otter diet composition and energy intake rates. Rich data inputs allow the model to predict population dynamics over realistic temporal scales not only for the site of data collection, but also for similar estuaries uncolonized by sea otters. Based on model projections parameterized with prey survey data from two such estuaries, Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero, we predict the sites could support over 160 sea otters and may hold potential to further species recovery. In systems with good data availability, the model has high predictive power and can provide multi-taxa projections useful for making informed management decisions.

Publication Year 2024
Title Modeling coupled dynamics of an empirical predator-prey system to predict top predator recovery
DOI 10.1016/j.biocon.2024.110623
Authors Samantha N. M. Hamilton, M. T. Tinker, Joseph Jackson, Joseph A. Tomoleoni, Michael C. Kenner, Julie L. Yee, Tomoko Bell, Max C. N. Castorani, Benjamin H. Becker, Brent B. Hughes
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Biological Conservation
Index ID 70254910
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center