Landscape-mediated variation in diet is associated with egg size and maculation in a generalist forager

Nina Jayne O'Hanlon, Sarah Alonso, Julie Miller, Rona A. R. McGill, Ruedi G. Nager

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Abstract

Human impacts alter landscapes with consequences for the distribution and availability of high-quality food resources to populations inhabiting those landscapes, which may impact on the reproductive output of individuals in those populations. Sensitivity of wild populations to changes in food resources may vary among stages of the annual cycle. For example, in birds, effects are likely to be greater during costly stages such as egg production. Here we compare assimilated diet (from stable isotope analysis of chick feathers) and egg traits (egg size, shape, eggshell colour and maculation, using pattern-analysis software) in Herring Gulls Larus argentatus, across seven colonies in southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Herring Gull is an opportunistic, generalist forager on both marine and terrestrial resources, which frequently exploits anthropogenic food sources such as fishery discards and human refuse. We found that larger eggs were laid in colonies where females consumed either a higher proportion of marine resources or terrestrial resources, while smaller eggs were laid in colonies where females had an intermediate diet. In colonies where females consumed more marine items they also laid eggs with higher maculation (intensity and size of spots) compared to colonies where females mainly consumed terrestrial food. We also found smaller and more pointed eggs, suggestive of resource shortages, in larger colonies. Generalist foragers are often thought to have the capacity to buffer themselves against changes in the food web, provided that enough alternative food is available. However, this study highlights that specialising on the most profitable or available resources has consequences for egg traits even in an opportunistic generalist forager exploiting a large range of habitats. If variation in egg traits is related to reproductive output, then understanding the impact of assimilated diet on reproduction early in the breeding season can provide important insights into how populations will respond to landscapes altered by human impact.
Original languageEnglish
JournalIBIS
Early online date11 May 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 May 2019

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