Animals can influence the structure of an ecosystem by changing the levels of nutrient input. This is of particular importance for the islands of western Lake Erie, which are relatively nutrient poor, but have experienced increases in nutrient input from growing double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) populations. The objectives of this study were to evaluate changes in soil characteristics (nutrients [nitrate (NO 3), total P], pH, and δ 13C [as a tracer of cormorant-associated nutrients]) across a gradient of cormorant nest density on two islands (Middle and East Sister) in western Lake Erie. For both islands, soil pH decreased and P concentrations increased with nest density. On Middle Island, soil nitrate concentrations increased with cormorant nest density, and varied with breeding phenology, with highest concentrations during the early and mid nesting season (272±19μgg -1) and lowest concentrations late in the season (165±11μgg -1). Following a 3-year absence of nesting activity at sites on Middle Island, soil nitrate concentrations were similar to those at low density sites. In contrast, nitrate concentrations measured on East Sister Island did not correlate with temporal or spatial patterns of cormorant nesting and remained elevated 10years post-cormorant use. While the results of this study confirm that chronic input of allochthonous materials alters soil properties of these islands, the unique conditions of each island must be considered when predicting ecological effects and setting long-term management objectives.

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Keywords Island ecosystems, Nest densities, Phalacrocorax auritus, Soil chemistry
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Journal Journal of Great Lakes Research
Rush, S.A. (Scott A.), Verkoeyen, S. (Stephanie), Dobbie, T. (Tammy), Dobbyn, S. (Sandy), Hebert, C.E, Gagnon, J. (Joel), & Fisk, A.T. (Aaron T.). (2011). Influence of increasing populations of Double-crested Cormorants on soil nutrient characteristics of nesting islands in western Lake Erie. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 37(2), 305–309. doi:10.1016/j.jglr.2011.03.006