Seabird species such as gulls and pelicans are often overlooked when it comes to conservation and can struggle to capture the public eye. To raise awareness of their importance to people and the ecosystems we depend on, a Science & Society article appearing August 6 in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution looks at something that most of us find off-putting: their poop. The researchers say that the poop, which is also known as guano and serves as a source of fertiliser and a key contribution to coastal and marine ecosystems, could be worth more than $470 million annually. By calculating this direct benefit to people, they hope to quantify the importance of seabirds and illustrate the monetary cost of declining populations.
“Guano production is an ecosystem service made by seabirds at no cost to us — I can go to an island, collect the guano, and sell it at market price as fertiliser,” says co-author Marcus V. Cianciaruso, ecology professor at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil. While few seabird species produce guano that is currently commercialised, the rest provide important nutrients to the ecosystems where their guano is deposited. “Because there is this scientific and biological importance, it’s possible to quantify seabird ecosystem services in a language that the general public and policymakers can begin to understand,” he says. MORE