|4cy fuscus: November
SPECIES ISOLATION BETWEEN THE HERRING GULL LARUS ARGENTATUS AND LESSER BUCK-BACKED GULL L. FUSCUS
R. G. B. Brown, 1967 IN: Ibis, Volume 109, Issue 3, pages 310317, July 1967
There is a large, mixed colony of the two “ring” species, the Herring Gull Larus argentatus and Lesser Black-backed Gull L. fuscus, on Walney Island, northwest Lancashire. These birds are nesting at the very high density of one nest/40 square yards, or more, but although they defend their territories against both species indiscriminately, there is effectively no hybridization. This paper discusses the nature of the species isolation mechanism, and its function.
Since the two species can produce fertile hybrids, the mechanism must be of an ecological/behavioural nature, rather than morphological incompatibility. It is shown that there are slight differences in breeding season and habitat, but these do not seem to be great enough to account for the high degree of isolation.
It is likely that species isolation depends primarily on the female's choice of a mate. It is suggested that, as specific cues, she uses the differences in call-note tones, and the colour of the back (and perhaps also of the eye-ring), or both.
Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backs are adapted to slightly different niches. The overlap is so great, however, that any hybrid is unlikely to be at a disadvantage; but the overlap can only have arisen very recently, as a result of both species taking advantage of the increased availability of human refuse. It is possible that the isolation mechanism was evolved to cope with earlier conditions, when food was more limited, and the species' niches more sharply defined.