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Foraging Ecology of Seabirds in Relation to Commercial Shrimp Trawler Activity

Seabird foiraging at shrimp trawler, SC


March 2006 - December 2008


Population dynamics of seabirds have been linked to availability of bycatch discarded from commercial fishery operations. South Carolina supports a substantial commercial shrimping industry that operates primarily in inshore waters where locally breeding Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), Laughing Gulls (Larus auritus), Royal Terns (Sterna maxima), and Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis) forage. We examined the relative abundance of these seabirds at shrimp trawlers during the breeding season, measured the consumption fate of fish species collected as bycatch and subsequently discarded, and measured the energy density and proximate composition of these discarded items. Trawlers were attended regularly by all four locally-breeding seabirds out to 30 km from colonies. Laughing Gulls were the most frequently observed followed by brown pelicans, royal terns, and then sandwich terns. Seabirds captured ca. 70% of experimentally discarded items from shrimp tralwers. Brown pelicans consumed more discards than predicted based on their frequency while the other species each consumed fewer discards than predicted based on their frequency. Seabirds selected smaller items compared to larger items, and selected benthic fish that typically would not be available to this suite of seabirds. Energy density of common discards ranged from 2.9 – 4.1 kJ/g wet mass and there appeared to be no difference in the energy density of the pelagic or demersal fish we measured. Our data suggest that all four locally breeding seabirds forage at trawlers frequently enough that changes in the size of the shrimp fleet would have the potential to affect their foraging ecology.

Research Products and Activities

Peer Reviewed Publications

  • Wickliffe, L.C.*, P.G.R. Jodice. 2010. Abundance of nearshore seabirds at shrimp trawlers in South Carolina. Marine Ornithology 38:31-39. Publisher Website | 
  • Jodice, P.G.R., L.C. Wickliffe*, E.B. Sachs*. 2011. Seabird use of discards from a nearshore shrimp fishery in the South Atlantic Bight, USA. Marine Biology 158:2289-2298. Abstract | 


  • Lisa Wickliffe, Dept. Forestry and Natural Resources, M.S. student, May 2006 – April 2008: Foraging Ecology of Seabirds in Relation to Commercial Shrimp Trawler Activity Website  | 


  • Wickliffe, L.C.*, E.B. Sachs*, P.G.R. Jodice. 2009. Fisheries discards as food for seabirds: fast food, junk food, or health food? Pacific Seabird Group Annual Meeting, Hakodate, Japan
  • Jodice, P.G.R., L.C. Wickliffe*, E.B. Sachs*. 2009. Seabird use of discarded bycatch from shrimp trawlers: what’s on the menu and who’s buying? International Marine Conservation Congress, Fairfax, Virginia.
  • Jodice, P.G.R., L.C. Wickliffe*, E.B. Sachs*. 2009. Investigating the relationship between breeding seabirds and commercial shrimp trawlers in nearshore waters of South Carolina, USA. Atlantic Seabird Symposium, Waterbird Society Annual Meeting, Cape May, New Jersey.
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Current Staff

Federal Staff: 95

Masters Students: 239

Phd Students: 143

Post Docs: 53

University Staff: 239

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 701

Scientific Publications: 1949

Presentations: 4250



Funding Agencies

  • South Carolina Dept Natural Resources Marine Resoures Div.


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey