Predation by marine-feeding otters (Lutra lutra) in south-west Portugal in relation to fluctuating food resources


  • Pedro Rui Beja

    1. Laboratório Marítimo da Guia, Forte de Na Sra da Guia, 2750 Cascais, Portugal
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    • 2

      Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, Rua Serpa Pinto, 32, 7630 Odemira, Portugal


Patterns of predation by otters (Lutra lutra) inhabiting the Portuguese south-west rocky coast, were inferred from the analysis of 757 spraints collected along a 5-km stretch of shore, from November 1990 to October 1993. Undigested remains were identified, counted and measured; the length and weight of ingested prey was estimated from regression equations. Monthly fluctuations in diet were compared to changes in the abundance of the primary prey species along the coast. The most commonly taken fish species had median lengths between 6.7cm and 15.0cm, and median weights between 3.5 g and 34.2g. Corkwing wrasse dominated the diet in terms of biomass (51.6%), and was the most important prey in terms of numbers (22.6%). Gobies (19.4%), Valenciennes' blennies (15.0%), shannies (1 1.4%), crayfish (7.2%), and shore rocklings (4.1%) were other numerically important prey. The contribution in biomass of gobies (14.5%), shore rocklings (6.7%) and conger eels (5.5%) was also significant. The dominant prey species and sizes in the diet were consistent over the years. From late winter to early spring the diet was numerically dominated by corkwing wrasse and gobies, whereas for the rest of the year shannies, Valenciennes' blennies and crayfish were also important. The contribution of these last species in biomass was small at all times of the year, and the corkwing wrasse was always the dominant prey. Prey was twice as heavy in winter as in spring. There was close correspondence between seasonal variation in diet and fluctuations in the abundance of the primary prey along the coast, but most dietary variation could be accounted for simply by fluctuations in the abundance of corkwing wrasse. In south-west Portugal, the most important food resource for otters seems to be the corkwing wrasse, probably because they are large and easy to catch. Corkwing wrasse are also exploited by local fishermen, and the possibility of competition between otters and humans should be investigated.