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Concerns about Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) have arisen because of their rapid population increase across North America and their economic impact on several aquaculture and commercial fish industries. In spite of the concern for cormorants, little published research is available that addresses either basic population biology questions or management issues. Based on a literature review, I recommend that research be conducted in four areas. First, a large-scale banding and marking program should be initiated so that population models can be used to estimate age- and sex-specific survival and fecundity (as has been done for the Shag [P. aristotelis] in Europe). By marking individual birds, survival and movement rates can be estimated between nesting colonies, which will provide information about potential source versus sink colonies. Second, studies of movements during migration and winter are required. Presently, no data are available on habitat use during migration or on the length-of-stay by individual birds. This has important implications to how cormorants interact with other fish and wildlife species over a broad range. Studies of movements during winter with radio-marked birds should indicate whether the 'problem birds' at aquaculture sites are merely a few specialists. Third, limiting factors, such as contaminants and disease, should receive further investigation, especially in light of recent concerns over the outbreak of Newcastle disease. The relationship between contaminant levels and developmental abnormalities in young cormorants in certain areas of the Great Lakes in Canada and the United States remains equivocal. Fourth, further studies are needed to document the economic impacts of cormorants on Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) and other cultured fishes and to determine ways to reduce predation by fish-eating birds. Mesocosm experiments should be conducted to evaluate how different fish extraction rates affect final productivity of fish. Controlled experiments with different exclusion and scaring devices are needed. With radio-marked birds, it should be determined what the behavioral responses are to the different scaring devises. Also, providing alternative wetland feeding sites in regions of fish farm depredation might alleviate some of the pressure on farmers. Studies with radio-marked birds could evaluate effects of manipulation of 'natural' wetlands on use by birds during the winter period. Finally, any research directed at the Double-crested Cormorant should also evaluate its interactions with other fisheating waterbirds.
Additional Publication Details
The ecology of cormorants: some research needs and recommendations