1. The quality-variability trade-off hypothesis predicts that (i) energy density (kJ g-1) and spatial-temporal variability in abundance are positively correlated in nearshore marine fishes; and (ii) prey selection by a nearshore piscivore, the pigeon guillemot (Cepphus columba Pallas), is negatively affected by variability in abundance. 2. We tested these predictions with data from a 4-year study that measured fish abundance with beach seines and pigeon guillemot prey utilization with visual identification of chick meals. 3. The first prediction was supported. Pearson's correlation showed that fishes with higher energy density were more variable on seasonal (r = 0.71) and annual (r = 0.66) time scales. Higher energy density fishes were also more abundant overall (r = 0.85) and more patchy at a scale of 10s of km (r = 0.77). 4. Prey utilization by pigeon guillemots was strongly non-random. Relative preference, defined as the difference between log-ratio transformed proportions of individual prey taxa in chick diets and beach seine catches, was significantly different from zero for seven of the eight main prey categories. 5. The second prediction was also supported. We used principal component analysis (PCA) to summarize variability in correlated prey characteristics (energy density, availability and variability in abundance). Two PCA scores explained 32% of observed variability in pigeon guillemot prey utilization. Seasonal variability in abundance was negatively weighted by these PCA scores, providing evidence of risk-averse selection. Prey availability, energy density and km-scale variability in abundance were positively weighted. 6. Trophic interactions are known to create variability in resource distribution in other systems. We propose that links between resource quality and the strength of trophic interactions may produce resource quality-variability trade-offs.
Additional publication details
Energy density and variability in abundance of pigeon guillemot prey: Support for the quality-variability trade-off hypothesis