Ecosystem change often affects the structure of aquatic communities thereby regulating how much and by what pathways energy and critical nutrients flow through food webs. The availability of energy and essential nutrients to top predators such as seabirds that rely on resources near the water's surface will be affected by changes in pelagic prey abundance. Here, we present results from analysis of a 25-year data set documenting dietary change in a predatory seabird from the Laurentian Great Lakes. We reveal significant declines in trophic position and alterations in energy and nutrient flow over time. Temporal changes in seabird diet tracked decreases in pelagic prey fish abundance. As pelagic prey abundance declined, birds consumed less aquatic prey and more terrestrial food. This pattern was consistent across all five large lake ecosystems. Declines in prey fish abundance may have primarily been the result of predation by stocked piscivorous fishes, but other lake-specific factors were likely also important. Natural resource management activities can have unintended consequences for nontarget ecosystem components. Reductions in pelagic prey abundance have reduced the capacity of the Great Lakes to support the energetic requirements of surface-feeding seabirds. In an environment characterized by increasingly limited pelagic fish resources, they are being offered a Hobsonian choice: switch to less nutritious terrestrial prey or go hungry. ?? 2008 by the Ecological Society of America.
Additional publication details
Restoring piscivorous fish populations in the Laurentian Great Lakes causes seabird dietary change