Harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena in the Eastern Scheldt: A resident Stock or trapped by a storm surge barrier?

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Abstract

Coastal protection measures are planned and executed worldwide to combat the effects of global warming and climate change, in particular the acceleration of sea level rise, higher storm surge flooding and extensive coastal inundation. The extent to which these defensive measures may impact coastal and estuarine ecosystems is still poorly understood. Since the building of a storm surge barrier, movement of harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena in and out of the Eastern Scheldt tidal bay (SW-Netherlands) may be limited. To measure residency, porpoises stranded along the Dutch North Sea coast between 2006 and 2008 were sampled for muscle (n = 102) and bone tissue (n = 118), of which 9 muscle (8.8%) and 12 bone samples (10.2%) were collected from animals stranded within the Eastern Scheldt. Stable carbon (d13C) was analysed to get insight into the habitat use and residency of porpoises in the Eastern Scheldt. Our data showed significantly higher d13C values in the muscle of porpoises stranded within the Eastern Scheldt (µ = -17.7‰, SD = 0.4‰) compared to animals stranded along the Dutch coast (µ = -18.3‰, SD = 0.5‰). This suggests that most porpoises stranded in the Eastern Scheldt foraged there for a longer period. The distinct d13C signature of animals from the Eastern Scheldt was not observed in bone tissue, suggesting a relatively recent shift in habitat use rather than life-long residency of porpoises within the Eastern Scheldt. The high number of strandings within the Eastern Scheldt suggests a higher mortality rate compared to the Dutch coastal zone. Our study indicates that along with other changes in the physical environment, the storm surge barrier may play an important role in determining the residency of porpoises in the Eastern Scheldt, and that the area might act as an ecological trap for porpoises entering it.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere56932
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • sea-level rise
  • stable-isotope analysis
  • food-web
  • feeding ecology
  • carbon isotopes
  • marine mammals
  • north-sea
  • nitrogen
  • diet
  • delta-c-13

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