Generalist predators can contribute to extinction risk of imperiled prey populations even through incidental predation. Quantifying predation on small populations is important to manage their recovery, however predation is often challenging to observe directly. Recovery of prey tags at predator colonies can indirectly provide minimum estimates of predation, however overall predation rates often remain unquantifiable because an unknown proportion of tags are deposited off‐colony. Here, we estimated overall predation rates on threatened wild juvenile steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) by generalist adult Western Gulls (Larus occidentalis) in six central California (USA) watersheds. We estimated predation rates by gulls from the recapture of PIT (passive integrated transponder) tags that were originally inserted into steelhead and were subsequently deposited at a Western Gull breeding colony, Año Nuevo Island (ANI). We combined three independent datasets to isolate different processes: (1) the probability a tagged steelhead was consumed during predation, (2) the probability a consumed tag was transported to ANI, and (3) the probability a transported tag was detected at ANI. Together, these datasets parameterized a hierarchical Bayesian model to quantify overall predation rates while accounting for tag loss between when prey were tagged and subsequent tag detection at ANI. Results from the model suggest that low recovery rates of PIT tags from steelhead at ANI were mostly driven by low probabilities of transportation (≤0.167) of consumed tags to ANI. Low transportation probabilities equate to high per‐capita probabilities of predation (≥0.306/yr) at the three watersheds in closest proximity to ANI, whereas predation rates were uncertain at watersheds farther from ANI due to very low transportation rates. This study provides the first overall estimate of Western Gull predation rates on threatened wild juvenile steelhead and suggests gull predation on salmonids is a larger source of mortality than was previously estimated from minimum predation rates. This study thus represents an important example of high rates of incidental predation by a generalist consumer on an imperiled prey and provides a quantitative framework to inform robust estimates of predation rates on small populations that can be applied to other systems where direct observation of predation is not feasible.
Ann-Marie Osterback, Danielle Frechette, Andrew Shelton, Sean Hayes, Morgan Bond, Scott Shaffer, and Jonathan Moore. "High predation on small populations: avian predation on imperiled salmonids" Ecosphere (2013): 1-21. DOI: 10.1890/ES13-00100.1