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Colonial Marine Birds Influence Island Soil Chemistry Through Biotransport of Trace Elements

Abstract

Marine birds are important vectors of nutrient and contaminant transfer from sea to land. In eastern Nova Scotia, Canada, colonial marine birds nest on specific nearshore islands within archipelagoes, and we predicted that soils on islands with bird colonies would have higher concentrations of selected trace elements (notably K, Ca, As, Cd, Cu, Pb, Se, Hg, and Zn) than soils on islands without colonies. In this study, common eider (Somateria mollissima), Leach’s storm petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa), black guillemot (Cepphus grylle), double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), great black-backed gull (Larus marinus), and herring gull (Larus argentatus) were considered to be the principal avian vectors for contaminant transfer. Results indicate that soils from islands with bird colonies had unique chemical compositions and commonly displayed elevated concentrations of K, Ca, Cu, Se, and Zn when compared to islands without colonies. Thus, marine birds feeding in the nearby marine zone move pollutants and nutrients from the ocean to nesting islands, potentially influencing habitat quality for coastal terrestrial species.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Ellen Boyd for field assistance. Financial and logistic support was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada, Environment Canada, the Canada Research Chairs program, and the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.

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Correspondence to Mark L. Mallory.

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Mallory, M.L., Mahon, L., Tomlik, M.D. et al. Colonial Marine Birds Influence Island Soil Chemistry Through Biotransport of Trace Elements. Water Air Soil Pollut 226, 31 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-015-2314-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-015-2314-9

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