Isotopic analysis reveals landscape patterns in the diet of a subsidized predator, the common raven.

Published online
22 Oct 2021
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Ecological Solutions and Evidence

Harju, S. & Olson, C. V. & Hess, J. & Webb, S. L.
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Anthropogenic subsidies to native predators can have cascading effects on sensitive prey populations, but the spatial mechanisms behind these effects are often unknown. We used a stable isotope mixing model to reconstruct spatially naïve assimilated diets of common raven (Corvus corax) chicks and then used regression analysis to investigate landscape patterns in assimilated chick diet, with particular respect to the eggs and chicks of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Assimilated raven diets were primarily composed of mammal carrion, followed by anthropogenic food and sage-grouse eggs and chicks. Raven diets showed landscape gradients, whereby raven chicks in nests near active greater sage-grouse breeding leks consumed a higher proportion of sage-grouse eggs, sage-grouse chicks and insects in their diet and less mammal carrion. A majority of raven nests on anthropogenic nesting structures (78.7%) were within 5 km of the nearest sage-grouse lek. Ravens nesting in high-probability greater sage-grouse nesting habitat consumed more insects and plants and less mammal carrion. In landscapes devoid of natural raven nesting substrates, such as our study area, anthropogenic nesting substrates can 'anchor' breeding ravens nearer to greater sage-grouse leks, with concomitant increases in raven predation on greater sage-grouse nests. Curtailment of anthropogenic nesting substrates within 5 km of a sage-grouse lek may have a disproportionately positive impact on sage-grouse populations. More generally, these findings highlight that the spatial arrangement of anthropogenic subsidies can result in indirect interactions between humans and predators with direct implications for predators and prey.

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