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Nutrient Dynamics and Nutrient Cycling by Birds

Nutrient Dynamics and Nutrient Cycling by Birds

(p.271) Chapter Nine Nutrient Dynamics and Nutrient Cycling by Birds
Why Birds Matter
Motoko S. FujitaKayoko O. Kameda
University of Chicago Press

In this chapter, we explore birds as drivers of nutrient dynamics across ecosystems. For example, seabirds transport nutrients from pelagic regions to land areas. We explain why nutrient transport by birds is important and how the characteristics of birds are especially effective for nutrient transport. In the case of seabirds, birds link distant ecosystems by transporting nutrients that otherwise would remain in a certain place, in ways that few other animals can. We present case studies that show the direct and indirect ecological effects of avian nutrient transport, and describe provisioning services provided by those ecological interactions. Globally, seabirds transfer an estimated 10,000 to 100,000 tons of phosphorus from sea to land annually, making up an extremely important supporting ecosystem service, due to humans' excessive use of phosphorus. Lastly, we discuss some negative effects of bird nutrient transport on people and environments, e.g. excessive nitrogen and phosphorus can pose threats to certain habitats, underlining the importance of assessing the costs and benefits of bird-mediated nutrient dynamics in human-dominated ecosystems. We must consider the diversity of ways in which humans value habitats and ecosystem services of birds, in order to find ways to balance the various ecological functions of birds.

Keywords:   seabirds, nutrient dynamics, nutrient cycle, ecosystem services, nutrient transport, phosphorus, nitrogen, ecosystem, human-dominated ecosystem

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