The spring condition hypothesis (SCH) states that the current decline of the North American scaup population (Lesser [Aythya affinis] and Greater Scaup [A. marila] combined) is due to a decline in quality or availability of scaup foods on wintering, spring migration, or breeding areas that has caused a reduction in female body condition and subsequent reproductive success. Our previous research indicated that forage quality in diets of Lesser Scaup (hereafter scaup) at two sites in Northwestern Minnesota was lower in springs 2000-2001 than that reported for springs 1986-1988, consistent with the SCH. Accordingly, we further tested the SCH at a landscape scale, by comparing amounts of amphipods in diets (index of forage quality) of scaup (N = 263) collected in springs 2003-2005 from seven eco-physiographic regions in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota in relation to data from Northwestern Minnesota during springs 2000-2001. We found that aggregate percentages of Gammarus lacustris and Hyalella azteca (amphipods) in scaup diets during springs 2000-2001 in Northwest Minnesota were similar to those in the Iowa Prairie Pothole, Minnesota Morainal, Minnesota Glaciated Plains, Red River Valley, and Northwestern Minnesota in springs 2003-2005; however, scaup consumed relatively higher aggregate percentages of Gammarus lacustris and Hyalella azteca in North Dakota Missouri Coteau and North Dakota Glaciated Plains. Females in Iowa were over three times less likely to have consumed food than those in North Dakota, despite previous research indicating similar foraging rates among these regions. Mean mass of scaup diet samples throughout the upper-Midwest were 77 mg (49%) and 87 mg (52%) lower than those of historical studies in Minnesota and Manitoba, respectively. We conclude that there has been a decrease in forage quality for scaup in Iowa and Minnesota and a decrease in the amount of forage consumed throughout the upper-Midwest, consistent with the SCH.
Additional publication details
Diets of Lesser Scaup during spring migration throughout the upper-Midwest are consistent with the spring condition hypothesis