The impact of anthropogenic food subsidies on a generalist seabird during nestling growth

Javier Lenzi, Iván González-Bergonzoni, Emanuel Machín, Bryan Pijanowski, Elizabeth Flaherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Anthropogenic food subsidies, such as refuse, are an important driver of animal population changes and gulls heavily forage on this food source. Foraging on refuse during the rearing period could affect the acquisition of resources with potential demographic consequences. Using conventional diet analysis and stable isotopes of δ13C and δ15N of blood of Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus) nestlings, we studied the variation of the chick growth in response to foraging on refuse on a reproductive colony in the Rio de la Plata Estuary in Uruguay. Using Bayesian mixing models on isotopic data, we estimated the proportion and variation of natural food and refuse in the diet of nestlings. Then, we modelled the variation between the mean posterior densities of the food sources and their standard deviation with the nestling morphometric measurements of different sizes. We found that refuse was gradually delivered to Kelp Gull nestlings during the chick rearing period. Additionally, variation of refuse incorporated into nestling tissues increased with nestlings' size. We propose that parents use more isotopically unique food sources during the nestling growth thereby increasing isotopic diversity. This study highlights the need to improve the current waste management system, which is being reviewed in Uruguay. We believe that decision makers should consider the results of this study, which show that refuse is directly impacting coastal ecosystems through mechanisms poorly explored by the environmental sciences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)546-553
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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