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Sotillo A.,Ghent University | Depestele J.,Belgium Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research | Courtens W.,INBO Research Institute for Nature and Forestry | Vincx M.,Ghent University | Stienen E.W.M.,INBO Research Institute for Nature and Forestry
Ardea | Year: 2014

Fishery discards in the Belgian part of the North Sea are a source of food for Herring Gulls Larus argentatus and Lesser Black-backed Gulls L. fuscus. To understand the importance of discards for local L. argentatus and L. fuscus populations, single-item discard experiments were performed at four offshore distances from the gullery of the Port of Zeebrugge, at four different stages of the breeding season (May to August 2011). We compared flock composition during discarding with the distribution of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, with respect to offshore distance from the colony as reflected by an 11-year (2002-2013) dataset of standardised ship-based surveys. Consumption of discards depended on the type of fish that was discarded, but prey selectivity by adults was reduced during the chick rearing stage. A generalised linear mixed model identified the number of scavengers following the vessel, the proportion of adults and of Herring Gulls in the flock and the frequency of food robbery events interacting with the stage of the breeding season as affecting the variation in flatfish consumption. Shifts in scavenger flock composition and discard consumption between stages of the breeding season are likely linked to variation in food requirements of the gull population along the season and to dispersal patterns towards the end of summer. Nutrient requirements of breeding adults peak during the chick rearing stage, making this a key period in terms of dependence of the breeding parents on discarded fish as food source.

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