Yellow-legged gull populations (Larus michahellis) link the history of landfills to soil eutrophication and time-related vegetation changes on small Mediterranean islands


  • Mutillod Clémentine
  • Baumberger Teddy
  • Prudent Pascale
  • Saatkamp Arne
  • Vidal Eric
  • Le-Mire-Pecheux Lidwine
  • Affre Laurence


  • Trace elements
  • Plant community

document type



Seabird colonies have a strong influence on both the physical and chemical soil parameters and plant communities of the islands where they settle to nest. Scientists have studied the effects of the demographic explosion of seabird populations, but few have explored the long-term effects when the colonies were in decline. The aim of this study was to investigate diachronic changes over a 24 year period of soil parameters, floristic composition and plant functionnal types (Raunkiaer growth forms and Grime life strategies) up to the decrease of the number of nesting yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis Naumann, 1840) on Mediterranean islands. We used 78 permanent plots to survey the vegetation and the soil parameters on 9 islands and one mainland area within the Calanques National Park (south east of France), for three periods (i.e., 1997, 2008, 2021). Since 1997, the increase of nesting gulls has caused a nitrogen and pH increase and organic carbon and C/N ratio decrease, although the values were still higher than mainland plots without nesting gulls. This has led to changes in plant species composition e.g., higher values of N favouring the development of ruderal plant species, still present in high frequency in 2021. Furthermore, plant species highly tolerant to disturbances (i.e., R Grime strategy) in harsh environments were still favoured even after the decline of gull abundance. However, both the frequency of the chamaephytes and the vegetation cover has increased with the decline of gull colony. In 2021, measures of trace elements' concentrations and calculation of pollution load index (Cu, Pb and Zn) reveals relatively low multi-contamination levels on the mainland and the archipelagos. On naturally oligotrophic and semi-arid Mediterranean islands, gull colonies induce a persistent alteration in soil characteristics that still influences plant communities (composition and functional types), 11 years after the decline in bird abundance.

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