Effects of parental age and food availability on the reproductive success of Heermann's gulls in the Gulf of California

Ecology. 2009 Apr;90(4):1084-94. doi: 10.1890/07-2009.1.


Parental age, body condition, and food availability have been found to influence breeding parameters in seabirds, such as clutch size, number of chicks hatched and fledged, hatching, fledging, and reproductive success. In this paper we analyze the influence of parental age and body condition estimated by body mass, and food availability estimated from catch per unit effort (CPUE) statistics for Pacific sardine (Sardinops caeruleus) + northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) by the local fishing fleet, on the breeding parameters of the Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni; a vulnerable species according to Mexican federal law) nesting in Isla Rasa, Gulf of California, Mexico. Results are based on data from 1123 recaptures of known-age individuals, ranging from 4 to 13 years of age, during seven observation years between 1989 and 1997. Ages of mated male and female gulls were positively correlated. Breeding parameters showed their lowest values in 1992, an El Niño year in which the birds also showed significantly lower individual masses for both males and females, and in which the local CPUE of sardine + anchovies was lowest. All breeding parameters increased significantly with parental age and were highest at 10-12 years. No significant statistical interactions were found between food availability and parental age on the breeding parameters. Through a path analysis we found that there is a strong chained relationship between variables: food availability, which is strongly driven by oceanographic conditions, affects both the survival of eggs into hatchlings and the survival of hatchlings into fledglings. This external factor and parental age, a biological factor intrinsic to each nesting couple, explain 41% of the observed between-nest variation in fledgling success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Charadriiformes / physiology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Mexico
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Time Factors