Gulls are highly opportunistic seabirds, and the exploitation of fishery discards has led to many population increases worldwide. We investigated the importance of fish in the diet of yellow-legged Larus michahellis and Audouin’s gulls L. audouinii and assessed the influence of fishery discards on their feeding ecology. We collected pellets from 4 islands along the western Iberian coast during pre-breeding, breeding, and post-breeding seasons from 2014 to 2018. Stable isotopes (from adult blood, and chick and adult feathers) were used to investigate spatial, seasonal, and inter-annual differences in their feeding ecology. We used pellet, stable isotope (δ15N, δ13C, and δ34S), and biochemical (triglycerides, uric acid, total protein, and carotenoids in adult plasma) analyses to investigate their relationships with fish landings across the annual cycle. Results revealed that the fish species consumed by gulls matched those landed by local fisheries on all study islands, and there was a positive association of pelagic and demersal fish diets with fish landing quantities for 2 islands. δ34S values suggest different self-feeding and chick-provisioning strategies in relation to fisheries. δ15N values exhibited strong negative correlations with fish landings, and triglycerides were positively correlated with pelagic but not with demersal fish landing quantities, suggesting that gulls fed more on lower trophic level and higher energetic content pelagic fish than on demersal fish. Overall, our results based on several techniques suggest that gull feeding ecology was linked to fishery discards, which in view of the new EU landing obligation may have major implications for both gull populations across Europe.
Calado, J.G., Paiva, V.H., Ramos, J.A., Velando, A. & Munilla, I., 2020. Anthropogenic food resources, sardine decline and environmental conditions have triggered a dietary shift of an opportunistic seabird over the last 30 years on the northwest coast of Spain. Regional Environmental Change, 20(1), p.10.
Human activities and environmental conditions are the main drivers of ecosystem change. One major alteration near the western Iberian coast has been the collapse of the Atlanto-Iberian sardine Sardina pilchardus stock, with important cascading effects on marine top predators. We investigated the effect of long-term changes in fishery landings, sardine availability and environmental conditions on the diet of the yellow-legged gull Larus michahellis in the northwest coast of Spain, over the last 30 years (1987–2017). Dietary trends of gulls were investigated through the analysis of 5010 pellets that revealed a sharp decline of fish and refuse and a shift to a crustacean-based diet. General additive mixed models showed that both total fish and sardine occurrences in gull pellets were negatively associated with total fishery landings and positively associated with sardine landings, suggesting fish depletion and higher fishing efficiency (i.e. reduced discards) during the study period. The winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index was also positively related with sardine occurrence in gull pellets, possibly due to low sardine abundance and rough conditions in years with very low NAO values. The refuse decline was most probably caused by the closure of open-air landfills, implemented under the European Union Landfill Directive. Our results suggest that changes in fishing practices and waste disposal were the main factors responsible for the sharp decline of fish and refuse in yellow-legged gull diet.