Resilient protected area network enables species adaptation that mitigates the impact of a crash in food supply

Katherine M. Bowgen, Lucy J. Wright, Neil A. Calbrade, David Coker, Stephen G. Dodd, Ian Hainsworth, Robert J. Howells, David S. Hughes, Paddy Jenks, Matthew D. Murphy, William Sanderson, Rachel C. Taylor, Niall H. K. Burton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
46 Downloads (Pure)


With coastal wader populations exhibiting long-term declines globally, understanding how they respond to changes in their preferred prey is important for future predictions, especially
given the potential for warming seas to affect invertebrate populations. The cockle Cerastoderma edule population in the Burry Inlet Special Protection Area (SPA) in south Wales, UK, declined from1997−2004 before an abrupt ‘crash’ in stocks between 2004 and 2010. While there has been some recovery since, stocks of larger cockles are still very low. Using survey data from the UK Wetland Bird Survey and analyses of apparent survival and biometrics from ringing, we investigated how the Burry Inlet SPA’s wintering Eurasian oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus population responded to this crash. Our analysis showed that both body condition and apparent survival of wintering adult oystercatchers were reduced in the years following the cockle crash but both re-covered. The number of birds using the Burry Inlet SPA decreased through the course of the cockle stock decline whilst numbers of birds in the adjacent Carmarthen Bay increased, indicating the importance of adjacent sites for buffering the effects of such changes, i.e. protected secondary habitats can be a vital component of a resilient site network. Our findings are useful in understanding how a predator copes with a serious decline in its preferred food stocks. This study has wide applicability in planning the management of coastal wetlands and shellfisheries as well as the design of resilient protected area networks in the light of environmental change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211–225
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2022


  • Apparent survival
  • Capture- mark-recapture analysis
  • Charadriiformes
  • Foraging
  • Shellfish mortality
  • Shorebirds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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