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Quantification of allochthonous nutrient input into freshwater bodies by herbivorous waterbirds

journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2008, 00:00 authored by S Hahn, S Bauer, Marcel KlaassenMarcel Klaassen
1. Waterbirds are considered to import large quantities of nutrients to freshwater bodies but quantification of these loadings remains problematic. We developed two general models to calculate such allochthonous nutrient inputs considering food intake, foraging behaviour and digestive performance of waterbirds feeding in terrestrial habitats: an intake model (IM), mainly based on an allometric relationship for energy requirements and a dropping model (DM), based on allometric relationships for defaecation.

2. Reviewed data of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) content of herbivorous food varied according to diet type (foliage, seeds and roots), season and fertilization. For model parameterization average foliage diet contained 38.20 mg N g−1 and 3.21 mg P g−1 (dry weight), whereas mean faeces composition was 45.02 mg N g−1 and 6.18 mg P g−1.

3. Daily allochthonous nutrient input increased with body mass ranging from 0.29 g N and 0.03 g P in teals Anas crecca to 5.69 g N and 0.57 g P in mute swans Cygnus olor. Results from IM differed from those of DM from ducks to swans by 63–108% for N and by −4 to 23% for P. Model uncertainty was lowest for the IM and mainly caused by variation in estimates of food retention time (RT). In DM food RT and dropping mass determined model uncertainty in similar extent.

4. Exemplarily applying the models to Dutch wetlands resulted in mean annual contribution of herbivorous waterbirds to allochthonous nutrient loading of 382.8 ± 167.1 tonnes N a−1and 34.7 ± 2.3 tonnes P a−1, respectively, which corresponds to annual surface-water loadings of 1.07 kg N ha−1 and 0.10 kg P ha−1.

5. There was a distinct seasonal pattern with peak loadings in January, when bird abundances were highest. Lowest inputs were in August, when bird abundance and nutrient content in food was low and birds foraged less in terrestrial habitats. Three-quarters of all nutrient input was contributed by greater white-fronted goose Anser albifrons, greylag goose Anser anser, wigeon Anas penelope and barnacle goose Branta leucopsis alone.

6. We provide general, easy to use calculation methods for the estimation of allochthonous nutrient inputs by waterbirds, which are applicable to a range of waterbird species, a variety of potential diets and feeding behaviours, and across spatial scales. Such tools may greatly assist in the planning and execution of management actions for wetland nutrient budgets.



Freshwater biology






181 - 193




Oxford, England







Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2007, The Authors