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Use of salmonid carcasses by vertebrate scavengers

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Abstract

The use of salmon Salmo salar carrion by otters Lutra lutra and other scavengers along the River Dee in north-east Scotland was studied by radio-tagging and individual marking of fish carcasses. More carcasses were available on the Dee than on tributary streams used for spawning, indicating that salmon returned to the river after spawning and died there. The amount of salmon carrion available to terrestrial and avian scavengers along the Dee varied from 6.7 kg. km-1 on an upstream study area to 36 kg. km-1 downstream. Fish carcasses in the Dee were moved by spates up to 20 km but in streams used for spawning less than 1 km. Of 86 carcasses examined in 1990/91, 64 were available to terrestrial and avian scavengers on the bank or awash and of these 45 had been fed upon by otters and 16 by birds. In 1991/92, 23 of 30 carcasses were available to terrestrial and avian scavengers. All had been fed upon, 19 by otters, four by birds. Other carcasses, in shallow water, were not available to terrestrial and avian scavengers. Subsequent scavenging was mainly by otters and continued for up to three weeks after the carcasses were found. Heron Ardea cinerea, great black-backed gull Larus marinus and crow Corvus corone also scavenged salmon carcasses along the Dee. Great black-backed gulls were the most frequent scavengers, but heron (dominant to black-backed gull) was a major scavenger in 1990/91. Crows, subordinate to other scavengers, waited, often in pairs, upon dominant scavengers. There were more scavenging birds downstream and numbers did not change between years. Of 20 salmon carcasses placed in spawning areas eight were probably, two possibly, removed by otters. Otters continued to scavenge carcasses for up to a month. Scavenging by foxes Vulpes vulpes and birds followed the removal of fish carcasses from the water by otters. Radio transmitters were removed by otters and left lying alongside carcasses.

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Ancillary