Inter-specific niche partitioning and overlap in albatrosses and petrels: dietary divergence and the role of fishing discards
Although fisheries discards are recognized as a key food source for many seabirds, there have been few thorough assessments of their importance relative to natural prey, and of their influence on the trophic structure of pelagic seabird communities during the non-breeding period. Competition for resources in Procellariiformes appears to be reduced mainly by avoiding spatial overlap, which is supposed to influence diet composition. However, artificial food sources provided by fisheries might relax niche partitioning, increasing trophic niche overlap. Using bycaught birds from pelagic longline fisheries, we combined the conventional diet and stable isotope analyses to assess the importance of fishing discards in the diet of eight species of Procellariiformes. Both methods revealed the high contribution of trawl discards to the non-breeding diet of three neritic species and a moderate contribution in several other species; discards from pelagic and demersal longline fisheries were considerably less important. There was a clear contrast in diets of neritic vs. oceanic species, which are closely related taxonomically, but segregate at sea. Niche partitioning was less clear among neritic species. They showed an unexpectedly high level of diet overlap, presumably related to the large volume of trawl discards available. This is the first study combining the conventional diet and stable isotope analyses to quantify the importance of fishery discards for a community of non-breeding seabirds, and demonstrates how the super-abundance of supplementary food generates high levels of overlap in diets and allows the coexistence of species.
Authors: Jiménez, Sebastián, Xavier, Jose C. ORCID record for Jose C. Xavier, Domingo, Andrés, Brazeiro, Alejandro, Defeo, Omar, Viera, Martina, Lorenzo, María Inés, Phillips, Richard A.