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Seasonal and area-related variations in the diet of otters Lutra lutra on Mull

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Abstract

The diet of otters Lurra lutrn living in a sea loch on the Isle of Mull was described by means of spraint analysis. Seasonal and spatial differences in the spraint composition were explored in the context of fluctuations in prey availability, as revealed by trapping. Butterfish Pholis gunnellus and the cottids Myoxocephalus scorpius and Taurulus bubalis were the most commonly occurring prey in spraints. In the winter, the proportion of rocklings (Ciliata spp. and Gaidropsarus spp.) and non-rockling gadoids (Gadidae) in the diet increased. Their relatively large size makes these latter species an important constituent of the winter diet. Seasonal and spatial variation in fish consumption largely reflected fluctuations in availability. The mean size of principal prey fishes in spraints was similar to that observed in the traps. These observations suggest that otters were not strongly selective with regard to fish species and size. Shore crabs, in contrast, were not taken in proportion to availability. The findings are discussed in the light of other studies of the diet of coastal otters. It is suggested that the lack of selectivity demonstrated in this study, compared with previous studies, may be explained by area-related variations in prey availability.

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