Prey fish returned to Forster’s tern colonies suggest spatial and temporal differences in fish composition and availability

By: , and 



Predators sample the available prey community when foraging; thus, changes in the environment may be reflected by changes in predator diet and foraging preferences. We examined Forster’s tern (Sterna forsteri) prey species over an 11-year period by sampling approximately 10,000 prey fish returned to 17 breeding colonies in south San Francisco Bay, California. We compared the species composition among repeatedly-sampled colonies (≥ 4 years), using both relative species abundance and the composition of total dry mass by species. Overall, the relative abundances of prey species at seven repeatedly-sampled tern colonies were more different than would be expected by chance, with the most notable differences in relative abundance observed between geographically distant colonies. In general, Mississippi silverside (Menidia audens) and topsmelt silverside (Atherinops affinis) comprised 42% of individuals and 40% of dry fish mass over the study period. Three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) comprised the next largest proportion of prey species by individuals (19%) but not by dry mass (6%). Five additional species each contributed ≥ 4% of total individuals collected over the study period: yellowfin goby (Acanthogobius flavimanus; 10%), longjaw mudsucker (Gillichthys mirabilis; 8%), Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii; 6%), northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax; 4%), and staghorn sculpin (Leptocottus armatus; 4%). At some colonies, the relative abundance and biomass of specific prey species changed over time. In general, the abundance and dry mass of silversides increased, whereas the abundance and dry mass of three-spined stickleback and longjaw mudsucker decreased. As central place foragers, Forster’s terns are limited in the distance they forage; thus, changes in the prey species returned to Forster’s tern colonies suggest that the relative availability of some fish species in the environment has changed, possibly in response to alteration of the available habitat.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Prey fish returned to Forster’s tern colonies suggest spatial and temporal differences in fish composition and availability
Series title PLoS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0193430
Volume 13
Issue 3
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher PLOS
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description e0193430; 23 p.
First page 1
Last page 23
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial San Francisco Bay
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional metadata about this publication, not found in other parts of the page is in this table