Gulls & garbage: phsyiology, behaviour and conservation conflicts
Two species of gull in the UK, the Herring gull (Larus argentatus) and Lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus) have shown moderate to strong declines in many traditional coastal and marine breeding areas. At the same time, numbers breeding at inland or urban sites are thought to have increased (although poor monitoring in the latter areas mean that this is difficult to quantify). This expansion into more urban areas has caused increased interactions with humans, causing issues of nuisance, disturbance and public health concerns. In recent years, this has led to increased efforts to limit breeding numbers in urban areas, sometimes by culling birds or destroying nests. This is not only costly, it also poses difficult ethical questions particularly given the population declines in some areas and the consequent national red listing of Herring gulls.
To better manage this conservation conflict, we need a better understanding of how and why individual gulls use or start using urban areas for feeding and breeding. Not only proximity to breeding areas but also behavioural responses to novelty and disturbance, as well as early life experience, is likely to be important.
In her PhD project funded by a NERC CASE studentship in collaboration with the BTO, Rebecca Lakin (Twitter: @birderbex and gullgirl.co.uk) aims to link behaviour, physiology and (early life) diet to better understand the relative use of marine and urban areas by both gull species for breeding and feeding.
I am particularly keen to develop this research strand, particularly focusing on charting the past and present population control levels, extent of public interactions with gulls, etc.
If you are interested in collaborating, or if you are a student looking to develop project ideas, I would be interested to hear from you.
Coming soon! :-)