Otters are an important species for comparative behavior and ecology because like people, they are elastic choosers, their diet depends upon the context.
Also, they are an indicator species; that is, subtle environment changes such as season, tides, current, salinity, and time of day can affect their foraging patches, food sources, when and where they breed, and reproductive season. Thus, alterations not only influence food choice throughout the day but also contribute to “giving up time” within a patch, a region, a kin-group, and a mate.
River otters are a great comparative model because they are so flexible: They don’t migrate, they can have a broad territorial range, their breeding season varies by region, their diet adjusts as resources become less plentiful, their daily activity shifts, their seasonal activity changes. They occupy freshwater, saltwater, estuaries, bays, lakes, rivers and ponds.
Given Whidbey Island has 200 miles of shoreline, eight large lakes as well as many residential lakes, Island County is an ideal area to study this important ecological sentinel.
Dr. Island will discuss her research of the Whidbey Island river otters relative to their diet preferences, distribution, and density, as well as how citizen scientists might get involved in the second phase of data collection, genetic fingerprinting, assessment of scat for microplastics and endocrine disrupting contaminants.