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Variations in the diet of introduced Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) inferred using stable isotope analysis


Heather L. Major. Current address: Department of Biological Sciences, Centre for Wildlife Ecology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, Canada V5A 1S6.


The presence of introduced Norway rats Rattus norvegicus has raised concerns for the fate of the large least auklet Aethia pusilla colony situated at Sirius Point, Kiska Island, Alaska. Previous studies have documented extreme interannual variation in least auklet reproductive success and potential drastic population declines, both of which have been attributed to the varying abundance of, and predation by, Norway rats. A diet study would resolve the uncertainty that remains about the role of rats in the auklet's reproductive failure and the colony's decline. Our main objectives here were to quantify the variation in diet of introduced Norway rats and assess predation on least auklets. Using stable isotope analysis we document wide variability in rat diet dependent on location and provide direct evidence that Norway rats are preferentially preying on least auklets at Sirius Point. In conclusion, we hypothesize that the observed wide variability in rat diet will contribute to the persistence of rats on Kiska long after auklets have been extirpated. The persistence of rats enabled by their foraging plasticity will increase their effects by creating ecological traps within which prospecting individuals will fall and be depredated. This has large conservation consequences as it suggests that when seabirds are extirpated recolonization by prospecting birds is virtually impossible and island ecosystems will continue to be negatively affected and altered as long as introduced predators, such as rats, remain within them.