Plastic and Non-plastic Debris Ingestion in Three Gull Species Feeding in an Urban Landfill Environment

Abstract

Plastic debris is recognized as a widespread, common and problematic environmental pollutant. An important consequence of this pollution is the ingestion of plastic debris by wildlife. Assessing the degree to which different species ingest plastics, and the potential effects of these plastics on their health are important research needs for understanding the impacts of plastic pollution. We examined debris (plastic and other types) ingestion in three sympatric overwintering gull species (Herring gulls Larus smithsonianus, Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus, and Iceland Gulls Larus glaucoides) to understand how debris ingestion differs among species, age classes and sexes in gulls. We also assessed how plastic burdens were associated with body condition to investigate how gulls may be affected by debris ingestion. There were no differences among the species, age classes or sexes in the incidence of debris ingestion (plastic or otherwise), the mass or number of debris pieces ingested. We found no correlation between ingested plastics burdens and individual condition. Gulls ingested plastic debris, but also showed high levels of other debris types as well, including metal, glass and building materials, including a metal piece of debris found within an abscess in the stomach. Thus, when the health effects of debris ingestion on gulls, and other species that ingest debris, is of interest, either from a physical or chemical perspective, it may be necessary to consider all debris types and not just plastic burdens as is often currently done for seabirds.

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Acknowledgements

For assistance with samples collected by the City of St. John’s and Rentokill Pest Control Canada Ltd under Permit # BD4241, we thank colleagues at Environment and Climate Change Canada, L. Roberts and H. Whitney at the Animal Health Division of the Newfoundland Forestry and Agrifoods Agency and Ashley Kroyer. Nicolle Davis for carefully retrieving debris from the gulls’ stomachs.

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Seif, S., Provencher, J.F., Avery-Gomm, S. et al. Plastic and Non-plastic Debris Ingestion in Three Gull Species Feeding in an Urban Landfill Environment. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 74, 349–360 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-017-0492-8

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