Burying beetle Nicrophorus investigator reproduction on Pacific salmon carcasses

  • Hocking M
  • Ring R
  • Reimchen T
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Abstract

1. In many undisturbed watersheds along the Pacific Rim, anadromous salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) provide a predictable source of carrion to the riparian zone, largely due to horizontal transfer of salmon carcasses by bears (Ursus spp.) and other vertebrates. 2. Burying beetles are important members of the north-temperate carrion fauna, and may utilise salmon carcasses and remnants for breeding. In this study, isotopic and observational data are reported that demonstrate previously unrecognised Nicrophorus investigator (Zetterstedt) reproduction on large salmon carcasses from five watersheds in coastal British Columbia. 3. Stable isotope signatures (delta N-15 and delta C-13) of adult beetles collected in autumn indicate a diet of salmon origin in all but one individual from all watersheds, suggesting that this beetle-salmon association is widespread. Comparison of autumn isotope signatures to individuals collected randomly in summer suggests that isotope signatures represent the larval carrion source from the previous autumn rather than immediate adult diet. 4. In a survey of N. investigator use of salmon carcasses from two watersheds, 35 broods were observed on chum and pink salmon carcasses, including 16 natural brood complexes containing over 100 larvae, and five ranging from 250 to 750 larvae. 5. Overall, north-coastal populations of N. investigator breed on the rich and reliable salmon resource and may exhibit a system of communal breeding on these carcasses. This is most relevant when the dramatic reduction in salmon spawning biomass over the last century is considered.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Burying beetles
  • Communal breeding
  • Diet
  • Marine-derived nutrients
  • Nicrophorus investigator
  • Salmon carcasses
  • Stable isotopes

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