Effects of Double-Crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus Less.) on Island Vegetation, Seedbank, and Soil Chemistry: Evaluating Island Restoration Potential


C. Boutin, email celine.boutin@ec.gc.ca


The unique plant community on Middle Island, Lake Erie, Canada, has been greatly modified by double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus Less.) whose population has increased enormously in the last two decades. The aims of this study were to assess the impact of cormorants on island tree canopy, understorey vegetation, soil seedbank, and soil chemistry. The ultimate objective was to assess the resilience of the vegetation community for recovery should cormorant nest densities decrease significantly. Forty-three point stations were established in a grid system covering the entire island. The herbaceous and woody vegetation was surveyed over 2 years and tree crown damage was assessed at each point station. In 2008, soil samples were collected for both chemical analysis and a seedbank inventory. Vegetation and seedbank species richness were impoverished compared to the vegetation surveyed prior to cormorant colonization. Cormorants affected not only the tree canopy where they nested but also the understorey vegetation. Exotic plant species were very common in the standing vegetation and constituted the bulk of the abundance in the seedbank. However, there was little relationship between aboveground vegetation and seedbank composition. Cormorants appeared to have little influence on seedbank richness, abundance, and composition. Notably, several species of conservation interest were found in the aboveground vegetation and in the seedbank providing a positive sign for future efforts to restore island plant communities.