1 July 2022 Food Choice and Prey Selection by Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo in a Shallow Coastal Zone in the Dutch Delta Area: Importance of Local Flatfish Stocks
Stef van Rijn, Mennobart R. van Eerden
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Coastal breeding Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo foraging in a shallow part of the Dutch North Sea preyed upon abundant marine demersal fish species. In 2010–2012 intensive fish surveys were performed in the Voordelta area and in 2009–2015 Cormorant pellets were sampled in the breeding colony of Breede Water, Voorne, four times per year between March and September. In total 48 fish species were detected in the diet, 38 being marine species. Mainly flatfish were consumed, and European Plaice, Common Dab and Common Sole were the most important prey according to fish mass. Experimental trawling revealed 65 species of fish of which gobies, Herring, Whiting, Sprat, European Plaice and Common Dab were the most abundant. Compared to the trawl data, Cormorants showed a preference for Common Dab and Common Sole and for other solitary bottom fish like sandeels and Shorthorn Sculpin. These species were all common in the area. With respect to uncommon and rare species, no preferential selection was recorded. Densities of flatfish were highest in foraging areas closest to the breeding colony and possible depletion effects were only recorded in Common Dab. This diurnal species was already being preyed upon early in the season. Nocturnal foraging habits in other flatfish species, in combination with burrowing behaviour and rounded body shape are effective anti-predator traits and this was reflected in lower frequencies of these species in the Cormorants' diet. Consumption of freshwater fish by Cormorants at the beginning of the breeding period enabled an early start to breeding, and the increasing availability of flatfish in late spring matched the peak demand of rearing nestlings. The almost exclusive predation on flatfish was probably caused by the near-bottom foraging behaviour of most Cormorants and this habit made the birds feed on other abundant demersal fish species as well, such as Whiting, sandeels, Shorthorn Sculpin, Lesser Weever and dragonet species. And although numerous in the system, this bottom-oriented feeding behaviour of Cormorants therefore resulted in a very limited predation on pelagic fish species. In total we estimate an annual extraction by Cormorants of some 100 tonnes of fish being c. 77,600 kg flatfish and c. 20,700 kg other marine fish. Although with a foraging range partly outside the coastal zone, the extraction of fish by Harbour Seals Phoca vitulina and Grey Seals Halichoerus grypus outnumbered that of Cormorants by a factor of 9. As seals are known flatfish consumers, this suggests that there is competition between mammalian and avian predators on demersal fish stocks in the coastal zone.

Stef van Rijn and Mennobart R. van Eerden "Food Choice and Prey Selection by Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo in a Shallow Coastal Zone in the Dutch Delta Area: Importance of Local Flatfish Stocks," Ardea 109(3), 507-528, (1 July 2022). https://doi.org/10.5253/arde.v109i2.a20
Published: 1 July 2022
Cormorant diet
depletion effects
Limanda limanda
Pleuronectes platessa
prey selectivity
seasonal switch in prey fish
Solea solea
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