Dynamic habitat corridors for marine predators; intensive use of a coastal channel by harbour seals is modulated by tidal currents

Gordon Hastie, Deborah Jill Russell, Steven Benjamins, Simon Moss, Ben Wilson, David Thompson

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Abstract

Previous studies have found that predators utilise habitat corridors to ambush prey moving through them. In the marine environment, coastal channels effectively act as habitat corridors for prey movements, and sightings of predators in such areas suggest that they may target these for foraging. Unlike terrestrial systems where the underlying habitat structure is generally static, corridors in marine systems are in episodic flux due to water movements created by tidal processes. Although these hydrographic features can be highly complex, there is generally a predictable underlying cyclic tidal pattern to their structure. For marine predators that must find prey that is often patchy and widely distributed, the underlying temporal predictability in potential foraging opportunities in marine corridors may be important drivers in their use. Here, we used data from land-based sightings and 19 harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) tagged with high-resolution GPS telemetry to investigate the spatial and temporal distribution patterns of seals in a narrow tidal channel. These seals showed a striking pattern in their distribution; all seals spent a high proportion of their time around the narrowest point of the channel. There was also a distinctive tidal pattern in the use of the channel; sightings of seals in the water peaked during the flood tide and were at a minimum during the ebb tide. This pattern is likely to be related to prey availability and/or foraging efficiency driven by the underlying tidal pattern in the water movements through the channel.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2161–2174
Number of pages14
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Volume70
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2016

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Keywords

  • Foraging
  • Marine mammal
  • Oceanographic
  • Predator
  • Pinniped
  • Diving

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