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Ecology - Science Policy

Egg Production in a Coastal Seabird, the Glaucous-Winged Gull (Larus glaucescens), Declines during the Last Century
Published: Monday, July 18, 2011
Author: Louise K. Blight

by Louise K. Blight

Seabirds integrate information about oceanic ecosystems across time and space, and are considered sensitive indicators of marine conditions. To assess whether hypothesized long-term foodweb changes such as forage fish declines may be reflected in a consumer's life history traits over time, I used meta-regression to evaluate multi-decadal changes in aspects of egg production in the glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens), a common coastal bird. Study data were derived from literature searches of published papers and unpublished historical accounts, museum egg collections, and modern field studies, with inclusion criteria based on data quality and geographic area of the original study. Combined historical and modern data showed that gull egg size declined at an average of 0.04 cc y-1 from 1902 (108 y), equivalent to a decline of 5% of mean egg volume, while clutch size decreased over 48 y from a mean of 2.82 eggs per clutch in 1962 to 2.25 in 2009. There was a negative relationship between lay date and mean clutch size in a given year, with smaller clutches occurring in years where egg laying commenced later. Lay date itself advanced over time, with commencement of laying presently (2008–2010) 7 d later than in previous studies (1959–1986). This study demonstrates that glaucous-winged gull investment in egg production has declined significantly over the past ~50–100 y, with such changes potentially contributing to recent population declines. Though gulls are generalist feeders that should readily be able to buffer themselves against food web changes, they are likely nutritionally constrained during the early breeding period, when egg production requirements are ideally met by consumption of high-quality prey such as forage fish. This study's results suggest a possible decline in the availability of such prey, and the incremental long-term impoverishment of a coastal marine ecosystem bordering one of North America's rapidly growing urban areas.