Poop of Seabirds Help Spread Vital Nutrients

We all know that seabirds are full of poop and they are not at all shy about sharing it either. But not everyone is put off by all their pooping. Brand new research is indicating that it is actually a good thing.

Most of us probably don’t know that bird poop is also called guano. And this guano is apparently full of those important nutrients for plants such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Whenever these seabirds get together and breed, they team up and create insane quantities of this manure. Each year, there is over 218 million pounds of phosphorus (99 million kgs) and over 1.3 billion pounds of nitrogen (591 million kgs) which are present in all of their droppings, this is in accordance to a report published recently in the publication Nature Communications.

Amazing Effect of Seabird Poop

After learning precisely the amount of these nutrients that seabirds are cranking out, scientists are now able to predict what changes could occur within the environment should these birds ever die out. In addition, there happens to be a critical goldilocks zone of nutrients that exists within bodies of water. Actually, there is a delicate balance that is required.

If there is too little of this poop, then those species that are relying on these food sources will have difficulty growing. If there is too much, then it can actually become dangerous with algal blooms that could start sucking oxygen out of the water which would kill off the fish. So it is very important to understand and be aware of where the phosphorus and nitrogen comes from. And now we know that a lot of it comes out of the butts of seabirds.

“This is really fascinating,” said Scott Winton, who is an aquatic chemist from ETH that is located in Zurich, Switzerland. Actually, Winton wasn’t involved in this research, but has performed studies on the ways that seagulls spread these nutrients – all the way from bodies of water to landfills. “I love stories like this.”

Incredible Amount of Knowledge was Gathered

Most of the time, we will hear stories about the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus whenever human or agriculture waste that has caused too much leakage into bodies of water. This causes dead zones just like the one that chokes the Gulf of Mexico. But we also need to understand the effects from other nitrogen and phosphorus sources, such as these seabirds — who get their food out of the ocean, digest that food, and then returning back to the land through their poop. Phosphorus and nitrogen that exists in that poop will leach into all the soil, the underground reservoirs, the rivers and lakes, and also the ocean.

So these scientists who were led by Miguel Angel Huerta-Diaz, who comes from the Universidad Autónoma, that is located in de Baja California, Mexico, was wanting to learn the amount of nutrients that comes from all these millions of seabirds globally. After measuring the number of birds who visit breeding sites, how long all the various species remain there, leaning the approximate the sizes of them, these researchers discovered that the seabirds produce about the same quantity of nitrogen and phosphorus as the fishing industry does. But they do not produce quite as much nitrogen as bean farming. And we know that quite a bit more phosphorus still comes out of rocks and other sediments than out of bird poop.