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Model projections reveal a recent decrease in a yellow-legged gull population after landfill closure

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Abstract

The food available in open-air landfills, one of the most common predictable anthropogenic food subsidies (PAFS), can have a profound impact on animal biodiversity. Understanding how and to what extent PAFS affect wildlife is crucial for a sustainable management of resources. Most large gulls behave as opportunistic foragers and constitute a good avian model to analyze the effect of PAFS reduction on animal populations. Using individual data from a yellow-legged gull population of the Basque coast (northern Iberia) collected over a 15-year period, we estimated survival and reproductive parameters and used them to parameterize an age-structured population model to explore the effects of the local landfill closure. Local survival probability declined with time as a consequence of the progressive closure of the local landfill sites. The top-ranked models included a quadratic function of time, suggesting an acceleration of mortality during the later years, especially in juveniles, while survival in adults was linear. An effect more pronounced in first year birds than in older birds. Population models predict a decrease of the population and confirmed a greater sensitivity of the population growth rate to adult survival probability. Overall, our results suggest that the reduced carrying capacity of the system resulted after landfill closures have caused a population decline which is expected to continue in the near future.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Basque Government and the Gipuzkoa Administration. S. Delgado benefited from a pre-doctoral fellowship from the Basque Government. We are grateful to the birdwatchers who kindly provided us sighting data on ringed gulls. An anonymous reviewer provided very valuable comments that helped us to improve an earlier version of this work.

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Sergio, Giacomo, and Juan wrote the main manuscript text and Sergio, Asier, and Alfredo prepared fieldwork and took data during the period of research. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sergio Delgado.

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Appendices

Appendix 1

Table 5 Management (open, O/closed, C) of those landfill sites situated within the home range area used by the studied population through the study period. We also indicate the month in which the landfill was closed or open (if re-open). Note that some landfills were re-opened after being closed for a while. Artigas, Zaluaga remained always open

Appendix 2

Table 6 Demographic parameters referenced in several bibliographic sources, relative to the yellow-legged gull or other white-headed Larus gulls, used to roughly assess the observed biological range within which these parameters can vary as compared to the ones seen in our survey colonies in Gipuzkoa

Appendix 3

Table 7 Deterministic lambda estimation when population parameters (breeding, survival) changed according to different scenarios (for details see also Table 4)

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Delgado, S., Tavecchia, G., Herrero, A. et al. Model projections reveal a recent decrease in a yellow-legged gull population after landfill closure. Eur J Wildl Res 69, 99 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-023-01723-w

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