Understanding the processes involved in the establishment and persistence of new seabird colonies is important for improving conservation and management strategies. Over the past few decades, kelp gull Larus dominicanus numbers have increased in Patagonia, Argentina, and new colonies have been reported. We studied a recently established colony to analyse aspects of its population dynamics and breeding biology. The number of breeding pairs at Punta Loma increased from 13 to 233 in the seven years after the colony was established (2004–2011) and the number of chicks fledged per nest was low (< 1 chick per nest) compared to that of other long-established kelp gull colonies in the region. Modelled estimates of abundance assuming closed population dynamics for the Punta Loma colony were lower than observed (70% lower or more), suggesting that the observed growth cannot be explained by local productivity alone. Immigration from other colonies was likely to be the main factor responsible for the observed growth, being considerably higher than local recruitment. This study constitutes the first characterisation of demographic processes occurring during the initial years following colony establishment in kelp gulls. The main findings include rapid population growth driven by immigration and poor breeding performance potentially linked to a high proportion of young breeders. Our results highlight the key role of source-sink dynamics on the growth and persistence of new seabird colonies.
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Vol. 61 • No. 1