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Effects of nesting waterbirds on nutrient levels in mangroves, Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras

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Mangroves provide numerous ecosystem services, including biodiversity values such as nesting sites for piscivorous waterbirds. High concentrations of waterbirds at nest sites are hypothesized to affect ecosystem dynamics, yet few studies have examined their effects as a nutrient source in mangroves. We examined the effects of nutrient enrichment by colonial waterbirds at a mangrove rookery in the Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras. We compared nutrient inputs via bird guano deposition and macronutrient levels in the vegetation and soils between a small island that hosted large numbers of roosting waterbirds and an adjacent island with little evidence of waterbird activity. Nest density at the rookery was 1721 ± 469 nests ha−1. Rookery birds deposited 7.2 ± 3.4 g m−2 day−1 guano dry weight, delivering an estimated 1.12 Mg ha−1 nitrogen and 0.16 Mg ha−1 phosphorus to the island over a 120 day breeding season. This large nutrient influx contributed to substantially higher concentrations of biologically important nutrients in the rookery soils (seven times more plant available phosphorus, eight times more nitrate, and two times more ammonium). Rookery mangrove leaves contained significantly higher concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus compared to the control site. These results suggest that colonial waterbirds significantly influence nutrient dynamics of mangroves at local scales. Further research is needed to understand the effects of avian derived nutrients on mangrove growth rates, nutrient export to adjacent waters, invertebrate communities, and mangrove associated fisheries.

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This work was part of the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP), a collaborative effort by the Center for International Forestry Research, Oregon State University, and the United States Forest Service, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Additional funding came from the Oregon State University Honors College and the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences in support of the undergraduate thesis by the senior author. We wish to thank Ian Drysdale, Luis Turcios, Wendy Naira and Claudia Vallejo for logistical support in Honduras, as well as Johnathon Lainez and the Honduran Secretariat of Natural Resources and the Environment (SERNA) for their collaboration. We also wish to acknowledge Dr. Fourqueren of Florida International University for the carbon analysis of soils. We are grateful to all of the participants of the Gulf of Fonseca SWAMP workshop for their local knowledge and contributions to data collection in the field.

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Correspondence to Tyler Neal McFadden.

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McFadden, T.N., Kauffman, J.B. & Bhomia, R.K. Effects of nesting waterbirds on nutrient levels in mangroves, Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras. Wetlands Ecol Manage 24, 217–229 (2016).

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