Articles | Volume 7, issue 3
05 Mar 2010
 | 05 Mar 2010

Effects of seagulls on ecosystem respiration, soil nitrogen and vegetation cover on a pristine volcanic island, Surtsey, Iceland

B. D. Sigurdsson and B. Magnusson

Abstract. When Surtsey rose from the North Atlantic Ocean south of Iceland in 1963, it became a unique natural laboratory on how organisms colonize volcanic islands and form ecosystems with contrasting structures and functions. In July, 2004, ecosystem respiration rate (Re), soil properties and surface cover of vascular plants were measured in 21 permanent research plots distributed among the juvenile communities of the island. The plots were divided into two main groups, inside and outside a seagull (Larus spp.) colony established on the island. Vegetation cover of the plots was strongly related to the density of gull nests. Occurrence of nests and increased vegetation cover also coincided with significant increases in Re, soil carbon, nitrogen and C:N ratio, and with significant reductions in soil pH and soil temperatures. Temperature sensitivity (Q10 value) of Re was determined as 5.3. When compared at constant temperature the Re was found to be 59 times higher within the seagull colony, similar to the highest fluxes measured in drained wetlands or agricultural fields in Iceland. The amount of soil nitrogen, mainly brought onto the island by the seagulls, was the critical factor that most influenced ecosystem fluxes and vegetation development on Surtsey. The present study shows how ecosystem activity can be enhanced by colonization of animals that transfer resources from a nearby ecosystem.

Final-revised paper