Modelling prey consumption and switching by UK grey seals

Sophie Smout, Anna Rindorf, Philip S. Hammond, John Harwood, Jason Matthiopoulos

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Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are adaptable generalist predatorswhose diet includes commercial fish species such as cod. Consumption by the seals may reduce the size of some fish stocks or have an adverse effect on stock recovery programmes, especially because predation may trap sparse prey populations in a “predator pit”. To assess the likely impact of such effects, it is important to know how consumption and consequent predation mortality respond to the changing availability of prey.Wepresent a model of grey seal consumption as a function of the availability of multiple prey types [a Multi-Species Functional Response (MSFR)]. We fit this MSFR to data on seal diet and prey availability
(based on the overlap between the distributions of predators and prey). Bayesian methodology was employed to account for uncertainties in both dependent and independent variables, improve estimation convergence by the use of informative priors, and allow the estimation ofmissing data on prey availability. Both hyperbolic (Type 2) and sigmoidal (Type 3) functional response models were fitted to the data and the Type 3 model was clearly favoured during model selection, supporting the conclusion that seal–prey encounter rates
change with prey abundance (sometimes referred to as “switching”). This suggests that some prey species may be vulnerable to predator pit effects. The fittedmodel reproduced contrasts in diet observed between different regions/years and, importantly, added information to the prior distributions of preyabundance in areas where the availability of some prey species (such as sandeels) was not known. This suggests that the diet of predators such as seals could provide information about the abundance and distribution of prey in areas that are not covered by fisheries and research surveys
Original languageEnglish
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)81-89
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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