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Keywords:

  • carrying capacity;
  • dabbling ducks;
  • diet;
  • food use;
  • moist-soil seed;
  • waterfowl

Abstract

Scientists, conservation planners, and resource managers who estimate energetic carrying capacity of foraging habitats for wintering waterfowl require accurate data on food availability and use. We estimated seed and tuber abundance in moist-soil wetlands commonly used and foraged in by dabbling ducks (Anas spp.) in and near the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV). To identify foods potentially used by dabbling ducks, we surveyed food-use literature from studies conducted in or near the MAV and compared estimated seed decline rates from core samples to predicted decline rates using published and measured estimates of decomposition. We inferred seed use when observed declines in mass exceeded that predicted by decomposition. In our analyses, we identified 15 taxa of moist-soil seeds apparently used and 6 taxa apparently not used by dabbling ducks. From our analyses and literature review, we identified 25 taxa of moist-soil seeds and tubers commonly consumed and apparently used by dabbling ducks in or near the MAV. Removal of seeds apparently not used by dabbling ducks resulted in a 30.9% (SE = 1.3) reduction in estimates of seed and tuber mass in managed moist-soil wetlands in the MAV. When we retained 3 seed taxa reported by previous studies as consumed by dabbling ducks, but which did not decline faster than predicted in our experimental wetlands, seed and tuber estimates were reduced by 26.8% (SE = 1.3). Inclusion of seeds not consumed by dabbling ducks in models of carrying capacity would result in overestimation of existence energy days by the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture and underestimation of moist-soil habitat requirements in the MAV. We suggest scientists conduct food-use and selection studies by collecting actively foraging ducks in the MAV to confirm our results and increase accuracy of carrying capacity estimates for dabbling ducks in autumn and winter. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.