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High water roost selection by waders: maximizing feeding opportunities or avoiding predation?

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During the highest spring tides the intertidal sediment flats of estuaries are fully inundated at high water, and waders have no choice but to move to supratidal roosts, e.g. on open farmland, saltpans or beaches. However, in many estuaries during the lowest neap or intermediate tides there are sectors of upper intertidal sediment flats that remain exposed even at the peak of high water, and so waders have the choice of roosting either there or in supratidal sites. In the Tagus Estuary, Portugal, as elsewhere, waders use both types of roosts during high water. Our main objective was to understand what makes waders opt for one of these two types of available roosts. We monitored wader use of saltpans and intertidal roosts from spring to neap tides, and measured foraging and alarm behaviour, prey availability and disturbance by predators. Most of the wader species studied chose intertidal (mudflat) roosts whenever these were available, and only roosted in saltpans during the peak of spring tides. We hypothesized that this preference was explained either by an attempt (i) to continue feeding into the high water period, or (ii) to minimize predation risk. Extending feeding time into the high water period did not seem to be very relevant for roost choice because both prey availability and foraging activity were low in both types of roosts. However, predator disturbance was several times higher in the saltpans than in the intertidal roosts, suggesting that this factor may be the determinant in the choice of roost type.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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