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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 417:287-300 (2010)  -  DOI:

Effects of seabird nesting colonies on algae and aquatic invertebrates in coastal waters

Gundula S. Kolb*, Janna Ekholm, Peter A. Hambäck

Department of Botany, University of Stockholm, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

ABSTRACT: Seabirds concentrate nutrients from large marine areas on their nesting islands. The high nutrient load may cause runoff into surrounding waters and affect marine communities in similar ways to those reported from marine fertilization experiments. In order to test if cormorant colonies affect algae and invertebrates in surrounding coastal waters, we collected Fucus vesiculosus fronds, its epiphytic algae, and associated invertebrate fauna near abandoned and active cormorant nesting islands as well as reference islands without nesting cormorants in the Stockholm archipelago in the northern Baltic Sea, Sweden. First, we showed, with δ15N analyses, that ornithogenic nitrogen provided a significant nitrogen source for algae and invertebrate consumers near islands with high nest density. Second, the nitrogen and phosphorus content of algae near active cormorant islands with high nest density was elevated, and epiphytic algae increased relative to F. vesiculosus. Third, 3 of 5 invertebrate taxa (Jaera albifrons, Gammarus spp., and Chironomidae) showed increased biomasses near islands with high nest density; but, contrary to former fertilization studies, only J. albifrons increased in abundance compared to reference islands. We conclude that runoff from seabird colonies has a profound effect on primary producers and some consumers in the surrounding water, but only if the colonies exceed a certain nest density. Thus, seabirds not only affect marine communities via top-town forces as commonly assumed, but also via bottom-up forces by concentrating nutrients around their nesting islands. Consequently, seabird islands can be seen as natural fertilization experiments and give important insights to the effects of eutrophication of marine systems.

KEY WORDS: Nitrogen · Stable isotopes · Bottom-up · Eutrophication · Baltic Sea · Cormorants

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Cite this article as: Kolb GS, Ekholm J, Hambäck PA (2010) Effects of seabird nesting colonies on algae and aquatic invertebrates in coastal waters. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 417:287-300.

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