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Delineation of surf scoter habitat in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland: macrobenthic and sediment composition of surf scoter feeding sites

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Abstract

Surveys of surf scoters (Melanitta perspicillata) along the Atlantic coast of the United States have shown population declines in recent decades. The Chesapeake Bay has traditionally been a key wintering area for surf scoters. Past and present research has shown that bivalves constitute a major food item for seaducks in the Chesapeake Bay, with surf scoters feeding primarily on hooked mussel (Ischadium recurvum) and dwarf surf clam (Mulinia lateralis). Degraded water quality conditions in the Chesapeake Bay have been well documented and have been shown to greatly influence the composition of benthic communities. Large concentrations of feeding surf scoters (>500 individuals) in the Bay were determined through monthly boat surveys. Locations consistently lacking surf scoters were also determined. Macrobenthos were seasonally sampled at 3 locations containing scoters and 3 locations without scoters. A 1 kilometer square grid was superimposed over each location using GIS and sampling sites within the square were randomly chosen. Benthos were sampled at each site using SCUBA and a meter square quadrat. Biomass and size class estimates were determined for all bivalves within each kilometer square. Results indicated that scoter feeding sites contained significantly greater biomass of M. lateralis, I. recurvum, and Gemma gemma than locations where no scoters were present. Substrate differences were also detected, with scoter feeding sites being composed of a sand/shell mix while non-scoter sites consisted primarily of mud. This data indicates that surf scoters in the Chesapeake Bay are selecting areas with high densities of preferred food items, potentially maximizing there foraging energetics. In addition, two scoter feeding sites also contained a patchwork of eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) and oyster shell, on which much of the I. recurvum was attached. This suggests the possibility that surf scoters utilize eastern oyster habitat and the dramatic depletion of oysters in the Bay could be a possible factor in surf scoter decline. More research is needed into the possible relationship between surf scoters and the eastern oyster.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Book chapter
Publication Subtype:
Book Chapter
Title:
Delineation of surf scoter habitat in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland: macrobenthic and sediment composition of surf scoter feeding sites
Year Published:
2005
Language:
English
Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description:
123
Larger Work Type:
Book
Larger Work Subtype:
Other Government Series
First page:
91 (abs)
Number of Pages:
123