Seabird colonies as the main source of nutrients for the coastal ecosystems in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park (NW Spain)

De La Peña-Lastra, S., Pérez-Alberti, A. and Otero, X.L., 2021. Seabird colonies as the main source of nutrients for the coastal ecosystems in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park (NW Spain). Chemosphere, 275, p.130077.

Seabirds form large colonies during the reproductive period, producing substantial changes in coastal ecosystems. The present study quantifies the amount of N and P deposited in colonies of yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park (AINP). Based on the composition of droppings, the amount of total N (TN), total P (TP) and bioavailable P (Pbio) deposited directly on the area occupied by the colony was determined. In addition, the amount of NH3 released into the atmosphere was also estimated by applying a bioenergetic model. The results indicated that 5.35 t total N, 3.35 t total P and 1.24 t bioavailable P are deposited in the colony annually. The archipelagos that received the greatest amount of nutrients were the Cíes Islands (2.37 t TN y−1, 1.48 t TP y−1, 0.55 t Pbio y−1), Sálvora (1.94 t TN y−1, 1.22 t TP y−1, 0.55 t Pbio y−1) and Ons (1.04 t TN y−1, 0.65 TP y−1, 0.24 t Pbio y−1). Rainwater from the colonies showed higher values of nutrients than in the control plot, possibly also due to gull influence. Therefore, the yellow-legged gull colony seems to be the most important source of nutrients at a local level, exerting a clear influence on the N and P cycles in this National Park. Another aspect worth taking into consideration is that increased N and P bioavailability may have a negative effect on the conservation of rare or threatened habitats and species by promoting the expansion of non-native ruderal species.


Enrichment of trace elements in colonies of the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) in the Atlantic Islands National Park (Galicia-NW Spain)

De La Peña-Lastra, S., Pérez-Alberti, A. e Otero, X.L., 2019. Enrichment of trace elements in colonies of the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) in the Atlantic Islands National Park (Galicia-NW Spain). Science of The Total Environment, 648, pp.1536-1548.


Marine-derived nutrients are known accumulate in seabird breeding colonies due to the deposition of nutrient-rich biological materials, thus greatly altering the functioning and dynamics of these terrestrial ecosystems. Here we present the results of a sampling survey carried out during three years in yellow-legged gull colonies in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park (NW Spain) with the aim of evaluating the influence of the colonies on the accumulation of trace elements, including micronutrients (Cu, Zn, Se, Co, Mo, Ni) and toxic elements (Cr, Cd, Hg, Pb, As, Ag), in the surrounding environments. For this purpose, we analysed samples of biological materials produced by the seabirds (pellets, excrement, feathers, eggs) and of soil, plants and inland water from several different subcolonies and control zones without seabirds.

The concentrations of most of the elements were higher in excrement and pellets (mean values: Zn: 152, As: 50 mg kg−1, Cd: 6, Co: 5 mg kg−1) than in feathers and eggs. The flow of trace elements into the breeding colonies, considering only the excrement, revealed a very high level of trace element deposition for a supposedly pristine environment (Zn: 2667, Cd: 70, Cu: 315, As: 64 g ha−1). The total concentrations of trace elements in soil were consistent with the long-term impact of the seabirds. Thus, the values in areas which this impact was greatest were significantly higher than in the control zones, particularly considering the most labile geochemical fractions of the soil. The concentrations of some elements (i.e. Co, As, Cd) were also higher in the inland waters in the colonies than in control zones. Finally, the concentration of trace elements in plants varied depending on the species and element considered.