We evaluated pigeon guillemots (Cepphus columba) as monitors of nearshore fish abundance and community composition during 1995-1999 at Kachemak Bay, Alaska. We studied the composition of chick diets at 10 colonies and simultaneously measured fish abundance around colonies with beach seines and bottom trawls. Sandeels (Ammodytes hexapterus) formed the majority of the diet at one group of colonies. Temporal variability in sandeel abundance explained 74% of inter-annual variability in diet composition at these colonies and 93% of seasonal variability. Diets at other colonies were dominated by demersal fish. Among these colonies, 81% of the variability in the proportion of sandeels in diets was explained by spatial differences in sanded abundance. Pigeon guillemots exhibited a non-linear functional response to sandeel abundance in the area where these fish were most abundant. Temporal and spatial variability in demersal fish abundance was not consistently reflected in diets. Spatial differences in the proportion of different demersal fishes in the diet may have been driven by differences in guillemot prey preference. Prey specialization by individual pigeon guillemots was common, and may operate at the colony level. Inter-annual variability in sandeel abundance may have been tracked more accurately because the magnitude of change (11-fold) was greater than that of demersal fish (three-fold). (C) 2000 International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
Additional publication details
Monitoring temporal and spatial variability in sandeel (Ammodytes hexapterus) abundance with pigeon guillemot (Cepphus columba) diets