European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 58, Issue 2, pp 441–450 | Cite as

Spatial contraction in a large gull colony in relation to the position of arctic fox dens

  • Gunnar Thor Hallgrimsson
  • Pall Hersteinsson
Original Paper


Many species of colonial ground-nesting birds are known to be sensitive to predation by terrestrial predators. The response of prey under the pressure of predation can either be direct (depletion of prey) or indirect due to prey avoiding the predator. We studied the recolonization of arctic foxes into a large and growing breeding colony of lesser black-backed gulls. The gull colony reached the size of 20,000 pairs during the period of no foxes. The number of breeding gulls continued to increase after the colonization of foxes and reached a maximum of 40,000 pairs about 15 years later. During the same time period, the spatial coverage of the gull colony shrunk from 31.4 down to 18.6 km2, and the change in distribution was closely linked with position of fox dens, which ranged in number from one to three annually. In 2005, the number of breeding gulls decreased slightly with an ongoing shrinkage in spatial coverage. Food analyses from fox scats and stomachs showed that birds of the order Charadriiformes, particularly gulls, were the key prey item. Survival rates of gull nests were higher in the middle of the colony than at the colony edge close to a fox den. The colony area lost could be explained solely by the number of eggs removed by foxes but is unlikely, e.g., due to reclutching. We suggest that intraspecific predation contributes additionally to the effects of direct fox predation although to an unknown degree.


Biological control Colonial breeding Larus fuscus Predation Vulpes lagopus 



This study is dedicated to my supervisor, co-author, and a friend Prof. Pall Hersteinsson who sadly passed away during the reviewing process of this paper. Pall was enthusiastic in studying the ecology of the arctic fox and was the first to encourage a study on the system between foxes and gulls presented here. The study was partially financed by the Icelandic Civil Aviation Authority and Keflavik International Airport. Best thanks to Gordon Edie, Halfdan H. Helgason, Elinborg S. Palsdottir, Eva Pier, and Arnor T. Sigfusson for help counting the gull colony and to Halfdan for drawing and analyzing distribution maps in ArcMap. Fox hunters provided specimens for the study, and sincere thanks to Pall Þórðarson, Sigurður Kr. Eiríksson, and Guðmundur Óskarsson for their contribution. Agnar Ingolfsson and Olafur K. Nielsen provided valuable comments throughout the project, and two anonymous reviewers made comments that improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of BiologyUniversity of Iceland, ASKJAReykjavikIceland
  2. 2.Reykjanes Environmental Research InstituteSandgerdiIceland

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