seabirds

Biotic connectivity between ecosystems can provide major transport of organic matter and nutrients, influencing ecosystem structure and productivity, yet the implications are poorly understood owing to human disruptions of natural flows. When abundant, seabirds feeding in the open ocean transport large quantities of nutrients onto islands, enhancing the productivity of island fauna and flora. Whether leaching of these nutrients back into the sea influences the productivity, structure and functioning of adjacent coral reef ecosystems is not known.

Rats contribute to the decline of tropical seabird populations by affecting their breeding success through direct predation of eggs and chicks. When they coexist with other predators, invasive rats may also generate indirect interactions via the changes they impose on the structure of communities and trophic interactions following invasion (‘hyperpredation process’), or when apex predators are eradicated from the ecosystem (‘mesopredator release effect’). Understanding these effects is necessary to implement restoration operations that actually benefit threatened seabird populations.

Introduced rats (Rattus spp.) can affect island vegetation structure and ecosystem functioning, both directly and indirectly (through the reduction of seabird populations). The extent to which structure and function of islands where rats have been eradicated will converge on uninvaded islands remains unclear. We compared three groups of islands in New Zealand: islands never invaded by rats, islands with rats, and islands on which rats have been controlled. Differences between island groups in soil and leaf chemistry and leaf production were largely explained by burrow densities.

Islands house a majority of the world’s biodiversity and are thus critical for biodiversity conservation. Seabird nesting colonies provide nutrients that are integral to maintain island biodiversity and ecosystem function. Invasive rats destroy seabird colonies and thus the island ecosystems that depend on seabird-derived nutrients. After rat eradication, it is unclear how long ecosystem recovery may take, although some speculate on the order of centuries. I looked at ecosystem recovery along a chronosequence of islands that had 12–22 years to recover following rat eradication.

Breeding success of 5 Cory’s shearwater Calonectris diomedea sub-colonies of Lavezzu Island (Lavezzi Archipelago, Corsica) was checked annually for 25 consecutive years from 1979 to 2004. Between 1989 and 1994, 4 ship rat Rattus rattus controls were performed in several subcolonies. In November 2000, rats were eradicated from Lavezzu Island and its 16 peripheral islets (85 ha) using traps then toxic baits. We compare cost (number of person-hours required in the field) and benefit (Cory’s shearwater breeding success) of control and eradication.

Desecheo Island supports important populations of plants, as well as animals found nowhere else in the world such as the Desecheo Anole, Desecheo Ameiva, and Desecheo Dwarf Gecko. Before the introduction of invasive rats, the island hosted large colonies of breeding seabirds, including the world’s largest Brown Booby colony and an important Red-footed Booby colony. But, due to the destruction of native vegetation and predation on eggs and chicks by these invasive rats, seabirds no longer nest on Desecheo and many plants and animals are threatened. Island Conservation and the U.S.