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Influences of submerged plant collapse on diet composition, breadth, and overlap among four crane species at Poyang Lake, China
Frontiers in Zoology  (IF3.172),  Pub Date : 2021-05-17, DOI: 10.1186/s12983-021-00411-2
Jinjin Hou, Lei Li, Yafang Wang, Wenjuan Wang, Huiying Zhan, Nianhua Dai, Ping Lu

Interannual variation in resource abundance has become more unpredictable, and food shortages have increasingly occurred in the recent decades. However, compared to seasonal fluctuations in resource abundance, the influences of interannual variation in resource abundance on the dietary niches of consumers remain poorly understood. Poyang Lake, China, is a very important wintering ground for the globally endangered Siberian Crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus), White-naped Crane (Grus vipio), and Hooded Crane (G. monacha), as well as the non-endangered Eurasian Crane (G. grus). Tubers of Vallisneria spp., the dominant submerged macrophytes at Poyang Lake, is an important food for cranes. Nevertheless, submerged macrophytes have experienced serious degradation recently. In this study, we used metabarcoding technology to explore the consequences of Vallisneria tuber collapse on the diet compositions, breadths, and overlaps of the four crane species based on fecal samples collected in winter 2017 (a year with tuber collapse) and winter 2018 (a year with high tuber abundance). Compared to previous studies, our study elucidates crane diets in an unprecedented level of detail. Vallisneria tubers was confirmed as an important food source of cranes. Surprisingly, the grassland plant Polygonum criopolitanum was also found to be an important food source in the feces of cranes. Agricultural fields were important foraging sites for Siberian Cranes, White-naped Cranes, and Hooded Cranes, providing foods that allowed them to survive in winters with natural food shortages. However, the three crane species preferred natural wetlands to agricultural fields when the abundance of natural foods was high. The abundance of Vallisneria tubers, and probably P. criopolitanum, greatly influenced the dietary compositions, breadths and overlap of cranes. During periods of preferred resource shortage, White-naped Cranes and Hooded Cranes widened their dietary niches, while Siberian Cranes maintained a stable niche width. The dietary niche overlap among crane species increased substantially under conditions of plentiful preferred food resources. Our study emphasizes the superior quality of natural wetlands compared to agricultural fields as foraging habitats for cranes. To provide safer and better foraging areas for cranes, it is urgent to restore the submerged plants at Poyang Lake. While high dietary niche overlap is often interpreted as intense interspecific competition, our study highlights the importance of taking food abundance into account.