Although published studies indicate the contrary, there is concern among many sport anglers that migrating red-breasted mergansers (Mergus serrator) and other waterbirds pose a competitive threat to sport fish species such as walleye (Sander vitreus) in Lake Erie. We quantified the diet of autumn-migrant mergansers and walleye during 1998-2000 in Sandusky Bay and adjacent waters of western Lake Erie. We hypothesized that the diets of both predators would be similar in species composition, but because of different foraging ecologies their diets would differ markedly in size of prey consumed. In addition to predator samples, we used trawl data from the same general area as an index of prey availability. We found that mergansers fed almost exclusively on fish (nine species). Gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides) and round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) were consumed in the greatest numbers, most frequently and comprised the greatest biomass. Walleye fed exclusively on fish: gizzard shad, alewife (Alosa psuedoharengus) and emerald shiner were consumed in the greatest numbers, most frequently and comprised the greatest biomass. Diet overlap between mergansers and walleye was 67% by weight and 66% by species frequency. Mean total lengths of gizzard shad, emerald shiner and round goby found in walleye stomachs exceeded those captured in trawls by 47%, on average. Mean total lengths of gizzard shad, emerald shiner and round goby were greater in walleye stomachs than in merganser stomachs. Mean total lengths of emerald shiner and round goby were less in merganser stomachs than in trawls. Our results suggest that although the diets of walleye and mergansers overlapped considerably, mergansers generally consumed smaller fish than walleye. Given the abundance and diversity of prey species available, and the transient nature of mergansers on Lake Erie during migration, we conclude that competition for food between these species is minimal.
Additional publication details
Fall diets of red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator) and walleye (Sander vitreus) in Sandusky Bay and adjacent waters of western Lake Erie