Life History Biology of the Desert Nesting Seagull Larus modestus

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Gray gulls Larus modestus are unique among birds of northern Chile as the only species nesting in the interior Atacama Desert, and the only seagull nesting far (30 - 100 km) from surface water. During breeding-nesting (August - February) gray gulls congregate on the coast of northern Chile where they feed and initiate courtship. As early as August, breeding pairs commute daily to the inner desert to establish nesting territories, round-trip distances of 60-200 Km. During incubation (30 days) and brooding (7 days) adults alternate daily foraging flights to the coast. Afterwards, both adults forage daily for their chick(s) until ... continued below

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x, 253 leaves: ill.

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Guerra Correa, Carlos Guillermo December 1987.

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  • Guerra Correa, Carlos Guillermo

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Gray gulls Larus modestus are unique among birds of northern Chile as the only species nesting in the interior Atacama Desert, and the only seagull nesting far (30 - 100 km) from surface water. During breeding-nesting (August - February) gray gulls congregate on the coast of northern Chile where they feed and initiate courtship. As early as August, breeding pairs commute daily to the inner desert to establish nesting territories, round-trip distances of 60-200 Km. During incubation (30 days) and brooding (7 days) adults alternate daily foraging flights to the coast. Afterwards, both adults forage daily for their chick(s) until fledging (ca. 60 days). Foraging flights and thermoregulatory costs during the period of maximal solar radiation, when ground temperatures may reach 61 C in the day and drop to 2 C at night, have selected for adaptations which minimize those costs: tolerance of hypothermia and hyperthermia; dark plumage; low egg-shell water vapor conductance; low standard metabolic rate; elaborate repertory of thermoregulatory behavior which allow adults to take advantage of microclimatic variations in the desert and minimize costs relative to a sympatric congenor, Larus belcheri scheduling foraging flights to take advantage of optimal atmospheric conditions and presence of forage fish (anchovies) close to the surface; scheduling migration to coincide with anchovy production and levels of interspecific competition; and reduced clutch size ( ≤ 2) relative to most seagulls. Periodic El Nino-Southern Oscillations (ENSO), which reduce principal food items of gray gulls, have selected for 'bet hedging" tactic by which L. modestus either ceases reproduction or varies clutch size between one and two, as observed during and after the 1982-83 ENSO.
During a typical reproductive season, breeding pairs allocate a minimum of 39 percent of their net metabolized energy (NME) to foraging flights. Including energy content of eggs, females have an overall reproductive effort (RE=reproductive costs/NME) of 35.1 percent of 122,086.8 KJ per year.

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x, 253 leaves: ill.

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  • December 1987

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Guerra Correa, Carlos Guillermo. Life History Biology of the Desert Nesting Seagull Larus modestus, dissertation, December 1987; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc331083/: accessed October 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .