Analyzing Pellets and Feces of African Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus albididorsalis) Results in Different Estimates of Diet Composition

Jan Veen, Hanneke Dallmeijer*, Cindy J.G. van Damme, Mardik F. Leopold, Thor Veen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

A frequently used method to estimate diet composition is based on the identification of fish otoliths present in pellets and feces. However, whether pellets and feces provide similar unbiased estimates of the diet remains poorly understood. The diet of African Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus albididorsalis) breeding in the Parc National du Delta du Saloum, Senegal, was studied. Prey species composition based on otoliths in freshly regurgitated pellets and a mixture of pellets and feces (excrement) accumulated near nests during the incubation period were compared. Altogether, 59 fish species were identified. Pellets contained far less prey species than excrement. Maximum diet overlap between excrement and pellets varied between 0.34 and 0.43 (mean = 0.36). Differences between minimum and maximum overlap between both sample types were small in all years. Pellets contained almost exclusively large otoliths (widths 3.0-8.5 mm), whereas excrement contained two fractions: large sized ones, identical to those present in the pellets and smaller-sized ones (0.5-3.0 mm) originating from feces. It is hypothesized that large otoliths cannot pass the intestinal tracts of the birds and are therefore regurgitated. Differences in prey species composition in pellets and excrement could potentially be explained by a combination of seasonal changes in availability of prey species and size of otoliths. Neither pellets nor feces alone give an unbiased picture of the diet of African Royal Terns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-304
JournalWaterbirds
Volume41
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018

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Keywords

  • African Royal Terns
  • Delta du Saloum
  • diet overlap
  • fish
  • otoliths
  • prey
  • Senegal
  • Thalasseus maximus albididorsalis.

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