PhD thesis: Influence of predictable anthropogenic food subsidies on seabirds’ breeding investment



Photo: (from left to right) Daniel Oro, Enrique Real y Giacomo Tavecchia / Enrique Real



Esporles, December 4, 2019. Enrique Real García has defended his doctoral thesis supervised by the doctors Giacomo Tavecchia and Daniel Oro, from IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB). The event took place on December 12 at the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona.



Recent policies on the ban of fishing discards and the closure of open-air landfills are expected to reduce the amount of predictable anthropogenic food subsidies (PAFS) for seabirds. To forecast the ecological consequences of these policies, it is necessary to understand the influence that each of these resources has on ecological parameters and how this can be mediated by density-dependent mechanisms. Besides, for those species exploiting both types of resources, it is important to consider whether or not their effects act synergistically. Finally, it is also important to understand how the ecological interactions between seabirds and PAFS can be influenced by other potentially important environmental factors, such as for example, the abundance of natural prey or the one of foraging conditions.



In the first chapter of this thesis, I reviewed the current knowledge on the ecological interactions between seabirds and fishery discards, with the aim of identifying the main knowledge gaps and to propose new challenges to improve our understanding of the ecological role of PAFS availability to seabirds. In the second chapter, I assessed the relative role of fishery discards and open-air landfills in the breeding investment of a generalist seabird, investigating the possible interplay with density-dependent mechanisms. In the third chapter I collaborated to investigate the role of PAFS in buffering environmental stochasticity and disrupting the natural synchronous dynamics between two seabirds. Finally, in the last chapter, I assessed the importance of several environmental factors in the breeding investment of three seabirds with contrasting life-history strategies. In particular, I considered local environmental variables (food abundance, competition and sea state) during breeding as well as the influence of winter conditions summarized by a large-scale climatic index, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Considering these variables simultaneously allowed me to assess the relative importance of natural and anthropogenic food resources, intra- and inter-specific competition and foraging conditions in the form of detectability and accessibility of food.



This thesis shows that the main knowledge gaps on seabird-discard ecological interactions are related to survival, dispersal and reproduction, the resilience of their populations against perturbations and the role of individual specialization in the foraging process. Results showed that both fishery discards and open-air landfills can significantly increase seabirds’ breeding investment. However, the landfill effect was weaker than the effect of fishing discards, probably due to the lower quality of waste as food resource. It is also shown that these effects can be masked by density-dependence processes. In addition, the thesis highlights the importance of considering the possible influence of socio-economic factors on the availability of these PAFS depending on the geographic area considered. I showed that PAFS can alter natural stochasticity, increasing the breeding investment of generalist species, which in turn, may alter the community structure. Finally, this thesis makes evident that foraging conditions in the form of detectability and accessibility of food can play a very important role in key demographic parameters such as breeding investment. This implies that in contrast to what is commonly assumed, food abundance does not directly translate into food intake. Finally, the results also suggest that the influence that the winter North Atlantic Oscillation has on breeding investment in some seabirds is limited to winter months and acts in spring as a ‘carry-over’ effect of winter conditions.