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Nutrient transfer from sea to land: the case of gulls and cormorants in the Gulf of Maine

Nutrient transfer from sea to land: the case of gulls and cormorants in the Gulf of Maine

Journal of Animal Ecology 75(2): 565-574

1. The structure of communities is influenced by the transport of resources across ecosystem boundaries. Seabirds are capable of introducing large amounts of marine-derived nutrients to land, thereby modifying resource availability to terrestrial species. 2. In this study we investigated the hypothesis that variation in nesting densities of great black-backed gulls Larus marinus and double-crested cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus would modify the effect of these species on soil nutrients and plant species composition on offshore islands in the Gulf of Maine, USA. 3. Our results showed a significant positive correlation between nest density and concentrations of ammonia and nitrate in soils, but no significant relationship between nest density and phosphate. Ammonia and phosphate concentrations were good predictors of plant species composition; there were more annual forbs than perennial grasses in the abandoned cormorant colony compared with the gull colonies. Extremely high concentrations of ammonia in the highest density colony (active cormorant) may have been the main factor inhibiting plant germination at this site. All of the plant species in gull and cormorant colonies showed enriched delta(15)N signatures, indicating substantial input of marine-derived nitrogen from seabirds. 4. Our study demonstrated that gulls and cormorants are effective vectors for the transport of marine nutrients to terrestrial ecosystems. However, transported nutrients occurred in particularly high concentrations in areas with nesting cormorants. Nesting densities and species-specific variation in resource transport should be considered when predicting the effects of seabirds and other biogenic vectors of allochthonous resources.

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Accession: 016514968

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

PMID: 16638009

DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2006.01077.x

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