Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 9, pp 1765–1780 | Cite as

Size matters: variation in the diet of chick and adult crested terns

  • Lachlan James McLeayEmail author
  • B. Page
  • S. D. Goldsworthy
  • T. M. Ward
  • D. C. Paton
Original Paper


We investigated ontogenetic, temporal and spatial patterns in the composition and size of prey in the diet of crested terns, Sterna bergii. Diet analyses indicated that crested terns are a generalist predator on surface-schooling clupeids (Australian anchovy Engraulis australis, sardine Sardinops sagax and blue sprat Spratelloides robustus), Degens leatherjacket Thamnaconus degeni, southern sea garfish Hyporhamphus melanochir, Australian herring Arripis georgianus, slender bullseye Parapriacanthus elongatus and barracouta Thyrsites atun. Ontogenetic differences in prey size indicated that adults are constrained in their foraging behaviour during the early chick-provisioning period by the need to self feed and select smaller prey that can be ingested by their chicks. Chicks consumed significantly higher proportions of clupeids than adults, which consumed mainly Degens leatherjackets and barracouta, suggesting that adults may select higher quality prey for their chicks compared to what they consume themselves. Spatial differences in prey composition were driven by differing proportions of sardine, Australian anchovy and Degens leatherjacket and could reflect local differences in the abundances of these prey. The size of prey taxa consumed by adults also reflected a North–South gradient in prey size. The large component of juvenile sardine in the diet of crested terns suggests future dietary measures may inform fisheries managers about changes in local juvenile sardine abundance. These data could assist in highlighting any fishery-related decreases in sardine recruitment and help ensure commercial fishing practices address principals of Ecologically Sustainable Development developed for Australian fisheries.


Prey Size Prey Taxon Individual Prey Chick Growth Small Pelagic Fish 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This study was principally supported through the Australian Government’s Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) Grants Scheme (PN 2005/031), co-funded by the South Australian Sardine Fishery. We also thank the South Australian Department for Environment and Heritage for financial assistance through the Wildlife Conservation Fund. All diet sampling and bird handling procedures were carried out under South Australian scientific research permit A24684. We thank volunteers A. Baylis, G. French, A. Ivey, T. Kemper, J. McKenzie, R. Mayo, G. McLeay, H. McLeay, L. K. McLeay, M. McLeay, A. Newman, J. Nichols, C. Platt, P. Rogers, and A. Wiebkin for their assistance during field operations, and C. and J. Johnson for providing logistical support and accommodation on Troubridge Island. We are grateful to A. Wiebkin, M. Steer and W. Dimmlich for providing data relating to prey regressions and P. Rogers and anonymous referees for useful comments that greatly improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lachlan James McLeay
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • B. Page
    • 1
  • S. D. Goldsworthy
    • 1
    • 2
  • T. M. Ward
    • 1
    • 2
  • D. C. Paton
    • 2
  1. 1.Aquatic SciencesSouth Australian Research and Development InstituteHenley BeachAustralia
  2. 2.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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