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Diverse foraging opportunities drive the functional response of local and landscape-scale bear predation on Pacific salmon

Quinn, Thomas P., Cunningham, Curry J., Wirsing, Aaron J.
Oecologia 2017 v.183 no.2 pp. 415-429
Oncorhynchus nerka, Ursus arctos, competitive exclusion, ecosystems, environmental impact, foraging, functional response models, habitats, landscapes, predation, predator-prey relationships, predators, salmon, streams, uncertainty
The relationship between prey abundance and predation is often examined in single habitat units or populations, but predators may occupy landscapes with diverse habitats and foraging opportunities. The vulnerability of prey within populations may depend on habitat features that hinder predation, and increased density of conspecifics in both the immediate vicinity and the broader landscape. We evaluated the relative effects of physical habitat, local, and neighborhood prey density on predation by brown bears on sockeye salmon in a suite of 27 streams using hierarchical Bayesian functional response models. Stream depth and width were inversely related to the maximum proportion of salmon killed, but not the asymptotic limit on total number killed. Interannual variation in predation was density dependent; the number of salmon killed increased with fish density in each stream towards an asymptote. Seven streams in two geographical groups with ≥23 years of data in common were then analyzed for neighborhood density effects. In most (12 of 18) cases predation in a stream was reduced by increasing salmon abundance in neighboring streams. The uncertainty in the estimates for these neighborhood effects may have resulted from interactions between salmon abundance and habitat that influenced foraging by bears, and from bear behavior (e.g., competitive exclusion) and abundance. Taken together, the results indicated that predator–prey interactions depend on density at multiple spatial scales, and on habitat features of the surrounding landscape. Explicit consideration of this context dependency should lead to improved understanding of the ecological impacts of predation across ecosystems and taxa.