1 June 2011 Sufficiency of Horseshoe Crab Eggs for Red Knots During Spring Migration Stopover in Delaware Bay USA
Sarah M. Karpanty, Jonathan Cohen, James D. Fraser, Jim Berkson
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Horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) eggs are a dietary staple of the red knot (Calidris canutus) during its spring stopover on the Delaware Bay. Numbers of knots stopping in Delaware Bay declined in the 1990s concurrent with a decline in horseshoe crabs, leading to the hypothesis that reduced horseshoe crab egg abundance limited the red knot population. Management efforts, including a seasonal harvest moratorium in the Delaware Bay, have been instituted to restore crab populations to levels of sustainable use by multiple users, including migratory birds. Our objective was to evaluate the sufficiency of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay in May–June 2004 and 2005 for knots to refuel for their migratory flight to the Arctic breeding grounds. We examined egg counts to determine if there were fewer high egg-density sites later than earlier in the day and season, as migrating birds might deplete this resource. We studied foraging rates at red knot locations to determine if foraging probes increased with time of day and season as birds depleted surface eggs by pecking, then began probing for subsurface eggs. Finally, we experimentally tested whether red knots and their competitors depleted horseshoe crab eggs. Crab egg numbers at knot foraging sites did not decline throughout the day or season in 2004. In both years, we found no evidence that knots switched from pecking to probing with increases in time since sunrise or start of the stopover. Egg numbers were similar in exclosed and accessible plots on crab nesting depressions and in areas of open intertidal zone, but were significantly lower in accessible than in exclosed plots in the wrack line. Our results indicate that horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay were sufficient to support the refueling of the present-day stopover population of red knots. If an increase in the availability of crab eggs to foraging birds does not result in an increase in knot numbers, managers must prioritize mitigation of limiting factors at other historically important spring stopovers and on the poorly understood breeding and wintering grounds in addition to the Delaware Bay.

© 2011 The Wildlife Society.
Sarah M. Karpanty, Jonathan Cohen, James D. Fraser, and Jim Berkson "Sufficiency of Horseshoe Crab Eggs for Red Knots During Spring Migration Stopover in Delaware Bay USA," Journal of Wildlife Management 75(5), 984-994, (1 June 2011). https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.129
Received: 6 August 2009; Accepted: 25 October 2010; Published: 1 June 2011

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Calidris canutus
Delaware Bay
horseshoe crab
Limulus polyphemus
prey depletion
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