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Larus gull species have proven adaptable to urbanization and due to their generalist feeding behaviors, they provide useful opportunities to study how urban environments impact foraging behavior and host-associated microbiota. We evaluated how urbanization influenced the foraging behavior and microbiome characteristics of breeding herring gulls (Larus argentatus) at three different colonies on the east coast of the United States. Study colonies represented high, medium and low degrees of urbanization, respectively. At all colonies, gulls frequently foraged at landfills and in other urban environments, but both the use of urban environments and gull foraging metrics differed with the degree of urbanization. Gulls at the more urban colonies used urban environments more frequently, showed higher rates of site fidelity and took shorter trips. Gulls at less urban colonies used a greater diversity of habitat types and foraged offshore. We observed high microbial diversity at all colonies, though microbial diversity was highest at the least urban colony where gulls used a wider variety of foraging habitats. This suggests that gulls may acquire a wider range of bacteria when visiting a higher variety of foraging sites. Our findings highlight the influence of urban habitats on gull movements and microbiome composition and diversity during the breeding season and represent the first application of amplicon sequence variants, an objective and repeatable method of bacterial classification, to study the microbiota of a seabird species.


This article was originally published in PLOS One, available at DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0209200.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC BY 4.0).



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