Donor-Control of Scavenging Food Webs at the Land-Ocean Interface
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Food webs near the interface of adjacent ecosystems are potentially subsidised by the flux of organic matter across system boundaries. Such subsidies, including carrion of marine provenance, are predicted to be instrumental on open-coast sandy shores where in situ productivity is low and boundaries are long and highly permeable to imports from the sea. We tested the effect of carrion supply on the structure of consumer dynamics in a beach-dune system using broad-scale, repeated additions of carcasses at the strandline of an exposed beach in eastern Australia. Carrion inputs increased the abundance of large invertebrate scavengers (ghost crabs, Ocypode spp.), a numerical response most strongly expressed by the largest size-class in the population, and likely due to aggregative behaviour in the short term. Consumption of carrion at the beach-dune interface was rapid and efficient, driven overwhelmingly by facultative avian scavengers. This guild of vertebrate scavengers comprises several species of birds of prey (sea eagles, kites), crows and gulls, which reacted strongly to concentrations of fish carrion, creating hotspots of intense scavenging activity along the shoreline. Detection of carrion effects at several trophic levels suggests that feeding links arising from carcasses shape the architecture and dynamics of food webs at the land-ocean interface.
© 2013 Schlacher et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License CCAL. (http://www.plos.org/journals/license.html)
Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl. Marine Ichthyology)