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Bald eagles, glaucous‐winged gulls, Lotka–Volterra model, predator–prey dynamics, Protection Island, Salish Sea


1. Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) populations in North America rebounded in the latter part of the twentieth century, the result of tightened protection and outlawing of pesticides such as DDT. An unintended consequence of recovery may be a negative impact on seabirds. During the 1980s, few bald eagles disturbed a large glaucous‐winged gull (Larus glaucescens) colony on Protection Island, Washington, USA, in the Salish Sea. Breeding gull numbers in this colony rose nearly 50% during the 1980s and early 1990s. Beginning in the 1990s, a dramatic increase in bald eagle activity ensued within the colony, after which began a significant decline in gull numbers. 2. To examine whether trends in the gull colony could be explained by eagle activity, we fit a Lotka–Volterra‐type predator–prey model to gull nest count data and Washington State eagle territory data collected in most years between 1980 and 2016. Both species were assumed to grow logistically in the absence of the other. 3. The model fits the data with generalized R2 = 0.82, supporting the hypothesis that gull dynamics were due largely to eagle population dynamics. 4. Point estimates of the model parameters indicated approach to stable coexistence. Within the 95% confidence intervals for the parameters, however, 11.0% of bootstrapped parameter vectors predicted gull colony extinction. 5. Our results suggest that the effects of bald eagle activity on the dynamics of a large gull colony were explained by a predator–prey relationship that included the possibility of coexistence but also the possibility of gull colony extinction. This study serves as a cautionary exploration of the future, not only for gulls on Protection Island, but for other seabirds in the Salish Sea. Managers should monitor numbers of nests in seabird colonies as well as eagle activity within colonies to document trends that may lead to colony extinction.

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Ecology and Evolution





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