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Burrow building in seabird colonies: a soil-forming process in island ecosystems

Bancroft, W.J., Garkaklis, M.J. and Roberts, J.D. (2005) Burrow building in seabird colonies: a soil-forming process in island ecosystems. Pedobiologia, 49 (2). pp. 149-165.

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Soil modification via biopedturbation by burrow-building seabirds was examined in a Mediterranean, island ecosystem. Physical and chemical soil properties were compared between a colony of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) and adjacent heath across a 14-month period. When compared to heath soil, the biopedturbated soil was 28% drier (6.04±5.40 vol%), had increased bulk density (by 29% to 1.30±0.11 g cm -3, 51% porosity), wetting capacity (by 83% to 0.55±0.83 molarity of ethanol droplet), hydraulic conductivity (by 266% to 398.91±252.04 mm h -1), and a greater range in soil surface temperature (31.7±6.2°C diurnally to 18.3±3.2°C nocturnally). Soil penetration resistance was reduced by 26% at a depth of 0-100 mm (326.5±122.4 kPa) and by 55% at 500-600 mm (1116.8±465.0 kPa). Colony soil also had increased levels of nitrate (by 470%), phosphorous (118%), ammonium (102%), sulphur (69%), and potassium (34%), decreased levels of iron (by 50%) and organic carbon (61%), was more alkaline, and had a 78% greater conductivity. Shearwaters deposited guano at a rate of 234.4 kg ha -1 yr -1 (dry mass). Chemical analysis of guano equated this to 50.9, 5.7, 5.5, and 3.6 kg ha -1 yr -1 of nitrogen, potassium, sulphur, and phosphorous, respectively. Experimentally constructed burrows demonstrated that digging alone can alter physical and chemical soil factors, but that changes in the nutrient profile of colony soils are predominantly guano-driven. We argue that the physical impact of seabirds on soil should not be overlooked as a soil-forming and ecosystem-shaping factor in island ecosystems, and that biopedturbation can exert major bottom-up influences on insular plant and animal communities

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: Urban und Fischer Verlag Jena
Copyright: © 2004 Elsevier GmbH.
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