Shorebird predation of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay: species contrasts and availability constraints.


1. Functional responses -- the relationship between resource intake rate and resource abundance -- are widely used in explaining predator-prey interactions yet many studies indicate that resource availability is crucial in dictating intake rates. 2. For time-stressed migrant birds refuelling at passage sites, correct decisions concerning patch use are crucial as they determine fattening rates and an individual's future survival and reproduction. Measuring availability alongside abundance is essential if spatial and temporal patterns of foraging are to be explained. 3. A suite of shorebird species stage in Delaware Bay where they consume horseshoe crab Limulus polyphemus eggs. Several factors including spawning activity and weather give rise to marked spatial and temporal variation in the abundance and availability of eggs. We undertook field experiments to determine and contrast the intake rates of shorebird species pecking for surface and probing for buried eggs. 4. Whether eggs were presented on the sand surface or buried, we demonstrate strong aggregative responses and rapid depletion (up to 80%). Depletion was greater at deeper depths when more eggs were present. No consistent give-up densities were found. Type II functional responses were found for surface eggs and buried eggs, with peck success twice as high in the former. Maximum intake rates of surface eggs were up to 83% higher than those of buried eggs. 5. Caution is needed when applying functional responses predicted on the basis of morphology. Our expectation of a positive relationship between body size and intake rate was not fully supported. The smallest species, semipalmated sandpiper, had the lowest intake rate but the largest species, red knot, achieved only the same intake rate as the mid-sized dunlin. 6. These functional responses indicate that probing is rarely more profitable than pecking. Currently, few beaches provide egg densities sufficient for efficient probing. Areas where eggs are deposited on the sand surface are critical for successful foraging and ongoing migration. This may be especially true for red knot, which have higher energetic demands owing to their larger body size yet appear to have depressed intake rates because they consume smaller prey than their body size should permit.

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@article{Gillings2007ShorebirdPO, title={Shorebird predation of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay: species contrasts and availability constraints.}, author={Simon Gillings and Philip Atkinson and Scott Bardsley and Nigel A Clark and Sarah Ellen Love and Robert Ashley Robinson and Richard Stillman and Richard G. Weber}, journal={The Journal of animal ecology}, year={2007}, volume={76 3}, pages={503-14} }