We examined diets of lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) and greater scaup (A. marila) during autumn 1999 and spring 2000 at 3 major stopover sites on lakes Erie, Ontario, and St. Clair in southern Ontario, Canada. Overall dietary composition did not differ between sexes in lesser or greater scaup. We also did not detect interspecific or sex-related differences in average size of zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) consumed by scaup, but both species ate slightly larger zebra mussels during spring, as compared with autumn. Dietary intake of lesser scaup differed between seasons and among stopover sites. Lesser scaup generally ate more zebra mussels during spring and more gastropods and plants during autumn. Lesser scaup at Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Lake St. Clair, respectively, consumed more zebra mussels, nonmollusk animal matter (crustaceans and insects), and plant matter than did conspecifics at the other 2 locations. Greater scaup diets differed depending on both season and stopover site. At Lake Ontario greater scaup diets contained more zebra mussels but fewer gastropods during spring as compared with autumn, but there were no seasonal differences in consumption of those 2 food items at Lake Erie. Greater scaup at both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie did not show seasonal differences in consumption of plant matter, but autumn-staging birds at Lake Erie contained more plant matter than did autumn-staging birds at Lake Ontario. Interspecific comparisons of dietary intake of scaup staging at lakes Erie and Ontario showed that greater scaup generally ate more gastropods and plant matter than did lesser scaup, whereas lesser scaup consumed more zebra mussels than did greater scaup. Overall, our study showed that zebra mussels, gastropods, and submerged aquatic plants all currently are important foods during both autumn and spring for lesser and greater scaup staging on the lower Great Lakes (LGL). Consumption of zebra mussels by scaup is of particular concern because of the hypothesized link between scaup foraging ecology, zebra mussels, and elevated selenium burdens documented recently in scaup staging on the LGL. Thus, our findings that both scaup species generally ate more and larger zebra mussels during spring illustrates the need for further investigation into contaminant acquisition and burdens in wintering, staging, and breeding scaup, particularly those using, or originating from, the LGL region.
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