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Is food supply for shellfish-eating birds in the western Wadden Sea affected by the between-species synchrony in year-to-year fluctuations of bivalve population parameters?

J. J. Beukema, R. Dekker
Helgoland marine research 2019 v.73 no.1 pp. 8
Cerastoderma edule, Mya arenaria, Mytilus edulis, biomass, birds, ecosystems, food availability, monitoring, survival rate, suspension feeding, winter, North Sea
For a better understanding of functioning and stability of ecosystems, it is important to know to what extent constituent species show similarity in their long-term fluctuation patterns, i.e. whether their numbers and biomass frequently show simultaneous peaks and lows. Synchronic peaks and lows of important species would enhance variability in the functioning of the entire system and might affect its stability. When fluctuation patterns of individual species are largely independent, their peaks and lows would tend to extinguish each other’s effect on overall parameters (such as total zoobenthic biomass), thus promoting system stability. A long-term (46 years) monitoring study of the macrozoobenthos in a large (50 km²) tidal-flat area revealed that the 4 most important bivalve species (3 suspension feeders: Cerastoderma edule, Mytilus edulis, Mya arenaria and 1 deposit/suspension feeder: Limecola (Macoma) balthica) frequently showed peak numbers of their recruits in the same years. The annual growth rates of the three suspension feeding species showed some synchrony as well. Annual survival rates, on the other hand, did not show any synchronization, wiping out the initial synchrony of numbers within less than 2 years. As a result, annual biomass values did not show any positive between-species correlations. Annual amounts of bivalves that are accessible as bird food rarely declined to levels below 5 g AFDW m⁻² and showed limited (5 to 10 fold difference between maximal and minimal values) variation. Oystercatchers left the area quicker in late winter and showed increased death rates at very low levels of food supply. Total bivalve bird food did not show any significant long-term trend. However, biomass of Mya arenaria showed an increasing trend and that of Limecola balthica a declining trend.