Effects of sea birds and soil development on plant and soil nutritional parameters after 50 years of succession on Surtsey

Rien Aerts, Richard van Logtestijn, Niki I.W. Leblans, Bjarni D. Sigurdsson

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Surtsey, the island that rose from the sea in a submarine eruption during 1963 to 1967, has been the subject of many studies on primary succession. These studies have intensified after the establishment of a seagull colony on the island in 1986. This paper reports on the results of a short sampling expedition in 2013 that intended to characterize the interactive effects of the seagull colony and of soil development on soil nutritional characteristics in the tephra sands that cover the underlying lava, as well as in plants growing inside and outside the seagull colony. Feces and pellets of the gulls were extremely rich in both nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) and δ15N analyses showed that N was transferred from pellets and feces to the tephra soils and subsequently taken up by the plants. The tephra soils not affected by the birds showed a high concentration of P compared to N. The concentration of both nutrients was much lower than in the soils of the bird colony. In general, variation in tephra soil depth had little effect on nutritional characteristics, except for the very low N concentration in deep soils. Thus, our results confirm the overriding effect of the seagull colony on Surtsey on nutritional characteristics of the developing soils and vegetation. Due to the very high P availability of the volcanic soils in combination with the high P input by the birds, vegetation productivity is N limited, despite the extremely high N input of 47 kg N ha-1 yr-1 that the birds add to the system. Our findings emphasize the extreme importance of bird colonies on the nutritional ecology of young, N-poor ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Pages (from-to)85-90
Number of pages6
JournalSurtsey Research
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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