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Title: The ecology of an urban colony of common terns (Sterna hirundo) in Leith Docks, Scotland
Author: Jennings, Gemma
ISNI:       0000 0004 2732 8524
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2012
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The Imperial Dock Lock Special Protection Area (SPA) in Leith Docks on the Firth of Forth currently supports the largest common tern (Sterna hirundo) colony in Scotland. The nest site, a former lock wall in an operational port, was designated as an SPA for the species in 2004 but very little is known about the ecology of common terns in this man-made environment. This thesis examined their ecology using a combination of long-term data for the Firth of Forth region and field research at the colony. The dynamics of the Firth of Forth breeding population of common terns was linked both to local influences of predators and the regional status of their main food source, the Firth of Forth sprat stock. Colonisation of Leith Docks resulted from relocation of birds from natural islands in the Firth of Forth which were abandoned due to unsustainable levels of predation by gulls. Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and lesser black-backed gulls (L. fuscus) are active predators in Leith Docks but at relatively low levels. Predation attempts by mink present a serious threat and could be highly detrimental to the colony. Foraging studies revealed that terns are feeding primarily in the Forth of Forth rather than within the docks, and that their diet consists mostly of sprat, but also sandeels and gadoids. The importance of sprat in the diet is discussed in relation to the potential reopening of the sprat fishery. Surveys of birds commuting between the colony and the feeding grounds showed that a range of flight lines are used but to different extents, and found no evidence of collisions with buildings or other man-made structures. Terns were well-habituated to regular human activity but were sensitive to unusual or high-level human disturbance factors. Gulls and crows, rather than humans, were the greatest disturbance factors for nesting birds overall. Currently the Imperial Dock Lock SPA is the only site in the region that could support common terns breeding in considerable numbers, and so the future of the Firth of Forth population of common terns is now dependent on this one site. There are a number of management options available, and the future persistence of the population relies on the continued monitoring of breeding numbers of terns, of predation levels and further assessment of the sprat stock.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Q Science (General) ; QH Natural history ; QH301 Biology ; QL Zoology