Environmental conditions and prey-switching by a seabird predator impact juvenile salmon survival

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Abstract

Due to spatio-temporal variability of lower trophic-level productivity along the California Current Ecosystem (CCE), predators must be capable of switching prey or foraging areas in response to changes in environmental conditions and available forage. The Gulf of the Farallones in central California represents a biodiversity hotspot and contains the largest common murre (Uria aalge) colonies along the CCE. During spring, one of the West Coast's most important Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) populations out-migrates into the Gulf of the Farallones. We quantify the effect of predation on juvenile Chinook salmon associated with ecosystem-level variability by integrating long-term time series of environmental conditions (upwelling, river discharge), forage species abundance within central CCE, and population size, at-sea distribution, and diet of the common murre. Our results demonstrate common murres typically forage in the vicinity of their offshore breeding sites, but in years in which their primary prey, pelagic young-of-year rockfish (Sebastes spp.), are less available they forage for adult northern anchovies (Engraulis mordax) nearshore. Incidentally, while foraging inshore, common murre consumption of out-migrating juvenile Chinook salmon, which are collocated with northern anchovy, increases and population survival of the salmon is significantly reduced. Results support earlier findings that show timing and strength of upwelling, and the resultant forage fish assemblage, is related to Chinook salmon recruitment variability in the CCE, but we extend those results by demonstrating the significance of top-down impacts associated with these bottom-up dynamics. Our results demonstrate the complexity of ecosystem interactions and impacts between higher trophic-level predators and their prey, complexities necessary to quantify in order to parameterize ecosystem models and evaluate likely outcomes of ecosystem management options.

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Wells, B. K., Santora, J. A., Henderson, M. J., Warzybok, P., Jahncke, J., Bradley, R. W., … Ainley, D. G. (2017). Environmental conditions and prey-switching by a seabird predator impact juvenile salmon survival. Journal of Marine Systems, 174, 54–63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmarsys.2017.05.008

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