Predation on common tern eggs by the yellow-legged gull at the Ebro Delta
Keywords:conservation, seabird community, colonialism, nest losses
The Ebro Delta holds a large seabird community, including a common tern (Sterna hirundo) local population of 3,085 pairs in 2000 which breeds scattered in several colonies. At El Canalot colony, 1,178 (1999) and 1,156 pairs (2000) of this species bred distributed in 32 and 38 sub-colonies respectively. These sub-colonies varied in size from 1 to 223 pairs and were placed near the main breeding colonies of yellow-legged gulls (Larus cachinnans) and Audouin´s gulls (L. audouinii), which are potential egg-predators of terns. We studied egg predation during 1999 (6 sub-colonies) and 2000 (27 sub-colonies). Overall, we found that 10.6% of the nests in 1999 and 16.7% in 2000 suffered partial or total egg predation, being total in 81.1% of the predatory events. Predation was significantly higher in small sub-colonies (< 11 pairs): 49.4% in 1999 and 75.5% in 2000. Only attacks from yellow-legged gulls were observed, and defence behaviour of terns was significantly more frequent against this gull species (40.5 hours of observation), suggesting that in most cases the egg predation recorded was due to this species. Probability of egg predation was significantly and negatively correlated with distance to the nearest yellow-legged gull sub-colony, although this relationship was no more significant after adjustment for sub-colony size. On the other hand, distance to the nearest Audouin´s gull sub-colony did not show any effect. Our results suggest that the impact of large gulls (at least yellow-legged gulls) upon smaller seabirds breeding in the area might be important, especially when they are breeding in small sub-colonies. Further studies are needed to analyse the general impact of large gulls upon the breeding populations of other colonial bird species in the area.
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