Volume 48, No. 1

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Foraging seabirds respond to an intermittent meteorological event in a coastal environment


1School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, Anglesey, UK, LL59 5AB *(
2Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, UK, PL1 3DH
3NAFC Marine Centre, University of the Highlands and Islands, Shetland, UK, ZE1 0UN


WAGGITT, J.J., TORRES, R. & FRASER, S. 2020. Foraging seabirds respond to an intermittent meteorological event in a coastal environment. Marine Ornithology 48: 125 - 131

Received 31 October 2019, accepted 17 February 2020

Date Published: 2020/04/15
Date Online: 2019/03/30
Key words: estuarine plume, foraging ecology, European Shag, Larus michahellis, Phalacrocorax aristotellis, vessel-based surveys, Yellow- legged Gull


Temporal variations in the numbers of foraging seabirds usually coincide with concurrent variations in physical processes influencing prey availability. Responses to periodic tidal currents are commonly reported, with certain tidal states being favoured. By contrast, responses to intermittent meteorological events have rarely been reported, even though wind-driven exchanges of water masses or intrusion of estuarine plumes could have similar consequences. As large-scale offshore constructions (e.g., aquaculture, coastal defences, ports and marine renewable energy installations) and climate variations alter periodic tidal currents and intermittent meteorological events, respectively, quantifying responses to these physical processes can identify potential impacts on seabird communities. This study quantifies responses of foraging seabirds to physical processes in the Ria de Vigo, northwestern Spain. The numbers of foraging European Shags Phalacrocorax aristotellis and Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis showed no response to variations in tidal current direction and speed. By contrast, both species increased in number during an estuarine plume intrusion (the Western Iberian Buoyant Plume: WIBP) following an extreme river discharge event and a period of southerly winds. These increases in numbers may be explained by the temporary combination of marine and brackish-water fauna, increasing prey biomass. The frequency of extreme river discharge events is likely to decrease in northwestern Spain. If WIBP intrusions consistently enhance prey availability, observations of large numbers of foraging seabirds using the ria could become rarer. 


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