The influence of seabirds on their breeding, roosting, and nesting grounds: a systematic review and meta-analysisMegan L. Grant, Alexander L. Bond, Jennifer L. Lavers
Seabird species worldwide are integral to both marine and terrestrial environments, connecting the two systems by transporting vast quantities of marine-derived nutrients and pollutants to terrestrial breeding, roosting, and nesting grounds via the deposition of guano and other allochthonous inputs (e.g., eggs, feathers).
We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis and provide insight into what types of nutrients and pollutants seabirds are transporting, the influence these subsidies are having on recipient environments, with a particular focus on soil, and what may happen if seabird populations decline.
The addition of guano to colony soils increased nutrient levels compared to control soils for all seabirds studied, with cascading positive effects observed across a range of habitats. Deposited guano sometimes led to negative impacts, such a guanotrophication, or guano-induced eutrophication, which was often observed where there was an excess of guano or in areas with high seabird densities.
While the literature describing nutrients transported by seabirds is extensive, literature regarding pollutant transfer is comparatively limited, with a focus on toxic and bioaccumulative metals. Research on persistent organic pollutants and plastics transported by seabirds is likely to increase in coming years.
Studies were limited geographically, with hotspots of research activity in a few locations, but data were lacking from large regions around the world. Studies were also limited to seabird species listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. As seabird populations are impacted by multiple threats and steep declines have been observed for many species worldwide, gaps in the literature are particularly concerning. The loss of seabirds will impact nutrient cycling at localised levels and potentially on a global scale as well, yet it is unknown what may truly happen to areas that rely on seabirds if these populations disappear.