Date: February 3, 2016
Source: Central Ornithology Publication Office
The researchers behind a forthcoming study in The Auk: Ornithological Advances have shown that Semipalmated Sandpipers on their annual stopover in
Bay of Fundy eat a far broader diet than
anyone suspected--and they did it by analyzing poop.
Analysis of stomach contents had led researchers to believe that Semipalmated Sandpipers in the
Bay of Fundy rely on an amphipod species called Corophium
volutator as their major food source. However, the new study of feces by Travis
Gerwing, Myriam Barbeau, Diana Hamilton, Jason Addison, and Jin-Hong Kim of the
University of New Brunswick shows that the sandpipers' diet knits together
several adjacent food webs--freshwater insects that wash down onto the beach in
streams and eggs of ocean-going fish deposited on the shore by tides get eaten
alongside organisms that live in the beach's intertidal zone.
This broader diet may increase their exposure to pesticides and other toxins, in addition to making the birds more resilient to changes in their habitat, such as those due to climate change. "Current Semipalmated Sandpiper conservation efforts in the Bay of Fundy focus on beach and intertidal habitats, neglecting terrestrial, pelagic, and freshwater systems that may not only supply nutrients, but harmful chemicals or pesticides as well," according to Gerwing. "Future studies need to explore this possibility, attempting to determine if bioaccumulation of harmful toxins from multiple ecosystems in the Semipalmated Sandpipers are having any negative impacts upon this species."