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Contrasting effects of food quality and quantity on a marine top predator
Kadin, M., Österblom, H., Hentati-Sundberg, J. & Olsson, O. (2012) Mar Ecol Prog Ser 444:239-249
Overfishing of predatory fish has contributed to an increase in forage-fish stocks. At the same time, a rising demand for forage fish to supply fishmeal markets, in combination with ­climate change, has put strong pressure on these stocks, and this, in turn, has had an impact on marine top predators. We examined how inter-annual variation in food quality (sprat Sprattus sprattus weight-at-age) and quantity (sprat abundance) influenced Baltic Sea common murres Uria aalge during chick-rearing. Fledging success, i.e. survival from hatching to fledging, showed a positive relationship with food quality, but we found no effect of food quantity. We found no relationship between food quality and parental behaviour or chick feeding parameters, but a negative relationship between food quantity and trip duration. Our data indicate that there was room for parental birds to increase their effort to compensate for reduced food quality, but we found no signs of such compensation. We analysed different types of fish and seabird life-history data to separate effects of food quantity and quality on a top predator. Understanding such effects can contribute to clarifying causes and consequences for observed changes in life-history parameters and population dynamics of top predators.

Keywords: Junk food, Trophic cascades, Ecosystem approach, Environmental change, Climate change, Alcidae, Common guillemot


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