Libmonster ID: RU-14997
Author(s) of the publication: Andrei IVANOV

by Andrei IVANOV, Cand. Sc. (Geogr.), M. V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Geographic Department

Colonies of waterfowl nesting on hundreds of small Northern Pacific islands have a very strong effect on their nature by introducing changes in it. Special ornithogenic geosystems, probably playing a special role in the structure and functioning of the biosphere, are formed on those islands and in the adjacent waterbody.

стр. 106


The Yamskoy Archipelago is nothing but several small rock islands, located in the northern part of the Sea of Okhotsk at a distance of 10 - 15 km from the mainland. Matykil Island is the largest among them (up to 697 m above sea level, with an area of 6.1 km) and the rest are much smaller. As a part of the Okhotsk-Chukotsky vulcanogenic belt stretching for almost 3,200 km along Northeastern Asia's outlying regions, the islands are closely bound up with the mainland shore located nearby, and they must have been separated from the mainland some 13,000 years ago. Geological deposits are represented here by granite intrusions, Jurassic sandstone and shale.

In 1982 the archipelago was included in the Magadan National Reserve. The nature here is really unique owing to the innumerable colonies of waterfowl on the islands that are not to be found anywhere else in the Northern Pacific.

The sea was calm when we first approached the Yamskoy shores. We were at once stunned by the view before our eyes: the entire water surface surrounding the island was simply packed with waterfowl. It's only natural, for the area has abundant stocks of food for them owing to the special features of hydrological circulation in the Sea of Okhotsk.

It is a fact that conditions are created for increased biological productivity in sections where several local streams meet or where there is a considerable difference in the sea depth. By flowing up the steep slope of the sea bottom deep waters, rich in biogenic substances, reach the surface here and give rise to the cold Yamskoy Current (in summertime its water temperature is about 5°C). This cold current is carried to the shore by strong ebbs and tides (with their amplitude up to 7 - 9 m). As a result, we observe a very high initial plankton productivity: the typical local carbon content level reaches 1,000 - 1,500 mg/m3, while in calmer Sea of Okhotsk waters the respective figure is just 200 - 250 mg/m3.

Plankton occupies the bottom of the trophic pyramid and it serves as the basis of existence for large populations of plankton-eating and predatory fish, marine mammals and waterfowl. According to approximate estimates, Matykil alone has a waterfowl population of 7 - 11.4 mln. Seashore waterfowl colonies occupy the island's all surface - from shore rocks to kurums (scattered stones) in the top part of the island (at a height of over 650 m). There are countless nests of various Alcidae species, such as common (black) and thick-billed guillemot (Uria aalge, U. lomvia), crested auklet (Aethia cristatella), least auklet (A. pussilla), paraquet auklet (Cyclorrhynchuspsittacula), sooty guillemot (Cepphus carbo), puffin (Lunda cirrhata), horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata) and also seagulls (Larus schistisagus, Rissa tridactyla), Behring cormorant (Phalacrocoraxpelagicus) and fulmar (Fulmarusglacialis). They have formed in this location the most numerous waterfowl colony in the Far East (a total of 1 mln birds). Fulmars and auklets (6 - 10 mln birds) form the basis of the archipelago bird population.

Ornithologists have long been informed on this large nesting colony. However, regardless of the local unique nature, the Yamskie Islands are still largely a terra incognita for researchers. For all the history of science only a few publications describing local nature appeared in the press, the main reason for it being extreme remoteness of and difficulty of access to the place. All authors agree that the water body near the islands has an exceptionally complicated bottom relief, with a great difference in sea depth and many changes in the speed of currents - up to 18 km/hour. Fogs and storms accompany constant strong winds. Even when the sea is calm, waves are constantly on the move here complicating the navigation of small vessels. Moreover, there are no bays suitable for moorage here, and it is simply impossible to carry out ground works on the island rocks. Nevertheless, our expedition took place in the summer of 2006 for carrying out research into the effect of the bird population on the vegetation and landscape of Matykil Island.


Nesting on the Yamskie Islands for centuries, their feathered masters have substantially changed nature here. The colonies of waterfowl have exerted a multifarious mechanical effect on the landscape. They dig burrows, loosen and pack the upper layer of the soil, trample over plants in the process of copulation, walking and territorial conflicts, simply pluck them out in clearing the site for their nests and in gathering nest material.

The geochemical aspect of their effect is also quite important, for the turnover of substance and energy undergoes substantial changes in places with countless bird nests. The fact is that in gathering food in the vast water body the birds constantly come back to their colony and in this way accumulate the products of consumption and food digestion on a small area. For instance, one pair of seagulls with their chicks supply, according to various estimates, from 85 to 170 kg of their vital activity products to the soil. The stepped-up turnover of substances and their concentration lead to a higher content of a number of chemical elements in the soil, plants, surface and littoral waters.

стр. 107

Various bird species have a different effect on geosystems. For instance, puffins, kittiwakes and seagulls have the strongest effect on the Yamskie Islands, and auklets and paraquets - the strongest geochemical effect. And practically all natural components undergo changes in the process. For instance, special micro-relief forms appear in the places of the bird colonies' location, hummocky marshes being the largest and most impressive of them. Such phenomena are observed under most different natural conditions (the Komandorskie Islands, islands of the Kola Peninsula south of the Arctic Circle, and so on), but they are always associated with various grass varieties. Such hummocks, from average 65 cm to maximum 162 cm in height, are formed by Langsdorf reed grass (Calamagrostis langsdorfii) on Matykil Island. And the area occupied by such micro-relief accounts for at least 20 - 30 percent of the total area of the island slopes.

Although hummocky marshes predominate in the nesting places of bird colonies, the mechanism of their formation is not yet quite clear. The current theories are actually based on the two main ideas: mechanical (their appearance as a result of the birds' physical effect in nesting places) and geochemical (active growth and tillering of plants stimulated by natural organic fertilizer). The latter theory seems more realistic to us, for, according to the results of our research, it is precisely the unusually high nitrogen and phosphorus content in the soil that contributes to such active grass growth.

All above-mentioned marshes are located in four types of nesting places: first, at the foot of rock exposures; secondly, on the plots located below scattered stones (you will find the nests of auklets and paraquets here); third, erosion hollows and last-the lower parts of slopes along the island's perimeter. Consequently, what is described as the ornitho-

стр. 108

genic micro-relief is formed in the landscape-and-geochemical field of the bird colonies' nesting. True, it is not a fact that you will always find inhabited nests inside hillocks as such. That is why it should not be ruled out that they are a kind of relic formations dating back to the period of nesting on a broader scale.

"Underground towns" of puffins, who arrange their nest in burrows and renovate and clean them every year, is another notable kind of the birds' effect on the lithogenous base. As a result of this species' age-long activity, their narrow, sometimes "multistory," passages have been cut through all slopes. A lot of removed loosened material is accumulated around the holes, and the ground next to them is strongly packed by the numerous "residents" who spend a lot of time on the ground surface.

Large bird colonies also considerably change the chemical composition of the surface waters. In order to confirm this fact, we compared the ionic composition of water from the stream flowing from the firn basin (it reflects largely the special geochemical properties of air currents) and from the streams flowing near bird colonies. In the former case mineralization was low, with "sea" ions (sodium chlorides) predominating, the organic carbon amount was insignificant (2.2 mg/l), the medium reaction weakly acidic (pH 5.98). In the latter case, we observed primarily a sharp increase in the total amount of ions, in particular, sodium chloride and calcium chloride.

The birds' metabolic products with a considerable content of uric acid and its salts serve as an important source of supply of those compounds to surface waters. Apart from such biogenic elements as K, Ca, Mg, streams carry phosphorus whose content in the birds' droppings is too high. Its soluble compounds are carried to the littoral waters and in this way ensure lateral contacts in the land-sea system.

Similar processes were also observed in mobile carbon compounds: 7.1 - 12.4 mg/l in "bird" streams, i. e., 200 - 400 percent more than in thawing snow waters. High content of organic acids leads to pH decrease to 3.4 - 3.5.


Large colonies of waterfowl have the strongest effect on vegetation that considerably differs from typical zonal veg-

стр. 109

Ionic composition of water from various streams of Matykil Island, mg-equiv./l: a - the Snezhny Stream (flows far from bird colonies), b - the Ptichy-1 Stream, c - the Ptichy-2 Stream.

etation or from the local plant communities where bird population is comparatively small. Limited variety composition with an insignificant range of omithofilous species predominant in phytocenoses is typical of omithogenic vegetation. The former group includes primarily Langsdorf reed grass (Calamagrostis langsdorfii) and also wild rye (Leymus mollis), Arctic bluegrass (Poa arctica), rose root stonecrop (Rhodiola rosea), among others. They are probably able to adapt to the unusually high nitrogen and phosphorus content in soils and are resistant to the birds' mechanical effect.

By the degree of the negative effect all plants may be divided into three groups. Plants in Group l have been crumpled, bitten round, with obvious changes in the vital condition or growth form. In Group 2 the plants' parts above the ground surface have been destroyed, with their dead elements and roots preserved and with particles of old plants scattered on the ground surface. Finally, there are plots completely devoid of any plants. The ratio of the area of the above-mentioned plant communities is different in various geosystems and depends on the bird species and nesting density.

Of great interest are the forms of biomorphologic adaptation of plants to their feathered "neighbors" influence, i. e., the ornithophilous species' direct response allowing them to survive under conditions that would be perilous for other species. Apart from the above-mentioned hummocks formed by Langsdorf reed grass and wild rye, unusual branching of many plants, intensive sprout formation, excessive development of vegetative organs and expansion of root stalks, in particular, caudex* attracted our attention. The latter phenomenon was clearly manifested in rose root stonecrop: almost all shore rocks of the Yamskie Islands are occupied by rose root stonecrop hillocks used by fulmars for building their nests.

Formation of special omithogenic soils under mono-dominant reed grass communities is among the insufficiently studied aspects of the effect of numerous colonies of wildfowl on the structure of natural geosystems. Of decisive importance in their genesis is the so-called dry peat formation, not associated with ground waters or the process of bog-formation on the territory but rather taking place in the mineral substratum in areas with cold and humid marine subarctic climate. Slow-down in the processes of decomposition and mineralization of fallen leaves leads to the progressive upward growth of the peat layer. It is l.5-meter thick even on the 40° slope.

The dead elements of Langsdorf reed grass, which develops intensively as a result of the profusion of nutrients in easily accessible forms supplied with the birds' vital activity products, serve as the basic component of this organogenic horizon. And the content of these elements is unusually high, enormously exceeding local standard indicators. Consequently, the supply of organic substances to the island soil by far exceeds their mineralization, and a considerable part of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is removed from the turnover of chemical elements in local ecosystems for a long time.

Apart from waterfowl, the Yamskie Islands boast of two large-size mammal species, with their habitat in the sea (eared seal) and on the ground (ordinary fox), although their effect on the landscape is insignificant. The Northern Pacific is the only habitat of eared seal, or northern sea lion (Eu-metopias jubatus). Owing to the small population of this species, it has been entered in the Red Data Book of Russia**.

* Caudex - anomalous change in the zhizome. - Ed.

** See: V. Kostenko, "The Red Data Book of Maritime Territory," Science in Russia. No. I, 2007. - Ed.

стр. 110

Large-size eared seal males may be almost four meters long with their weight of over 1 ton. In the past few years their population has been slowly but surely restored. Their rookery on the Yamskie Islands is among the largest, and up to 900 animals may be observed there in certain years.

Several foxes (Vulpes vulpes) inhabit the area around the island's top part. These foxes are typical of Eurasia as a whole. However, they are the largest ground predators among the scanty population of the local wildlife. Although there are just a few of them, they are of decisive importance for the distribution of the bird population, for they are the reason behind the birds' reluctance to nesting in many seemingly suitable places. Since people have never settled on the island, the local foxes are not timid and readily pose for photographers.


The effect of large bird colonies on the adjacent water-body is of great interest, but so far it has been insufficiently studied. As mentioned above, owing to the very intensive metabolism typical of fish-eating waterfowl, accelerated turnover and accumulation of substances are observed in places of their habitat. The content of biogenic elements also grows in the littoral waters. And this gives rise to ornithogenic biogeochemical anomalies near bird colonies. The productivity of diatomic and peridinial sea weeds, small flagellates and other groups serving as a basis of nutrition for plant-eating plankton shows a notable upward trend here. This has an effect on the following trophic levels: the population of larvae of certain cirripeds has increased, the

стр. 111

indicators of certain species of zoobenthos and fish are unusually high.

In a word, the pulse (primarily in the nesting period) effect - that has taken place in the past few centuries- of large waterfowl colonies has led to the formation of a special kind of micro-relief, development of an original soil-and-plant complex, with an anomalous chemical composition of surface and littoral waters formed as a result and, finally, to the formation of an unusual ornithogenic geosystem with a specific correlation of natural components and interrelations. The system's stable balance in the sub-air and underwater part of the island is supported precisely by the bird colony.

The effect of such bird colonies is of crucial importance for the formation of individual fades, groups of isolated terrain features and in certain cases-of the landscape as a whole. This is especially clearly manifested on small islands with a high level of bird population density and with no people around. While solely individual plots in the places of location of bird colonies undergo changes on large islands and on shore cliffs of the mainland.

Although such ornithogenic systems are of local nature, their role should not be underestimated. The Northern Pacific stands out as a region of increased concentration of waterfowl on a global level. There are several hundred small islands here with large bird colonies and with special features of structure and functioning due to their influence. The amount of mineral phosphorus and nitrogen compounds alone, formed as a result of the vital activity of waterfowl colonies, accounts, according to certain estimates, for 3.9 percent and 19 percent, respectively, of the aggregate removal of these substances by rivers to the World Ocean. Such geosystems with their high substance-and-energy and information potential probably play a certain role in the structure and functioning of the biosphere, and this role has as yet to be specified.


Permanent link to this publication:

Similar publications: LRussia LWorld Y G


Россия ОнлайнContacts and other materials (articles, photo, files etc)

Author's official page at Libmonster:

Find other author's materials at: Libmonster (all the World)GoogleYandex

Permanent link for scientific papers (for citations):

Andrei IVANOV, YAMSKIE ISLANDS: A NORTH PACIFIC PHENOMENON // Moscow: Russian Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.RU). Updated: 20.10.2018. URL: (date of access: 05.12.2022).

Publication author(s) - Andrei IVANOV:

Andrei IVANOV → other publications, search: Libmonster RussiaLibmonster WorldGoogleYandex


Reviews of professional authors
Order by: 
Per page: 
  • There are no comments yet
Related topics
Россия Онлайн
Москва, Russia
576 views rating
20.10.2018 (1507 days ago)
0 subscribers
0 votes
Related Articles
Yesterday · From Россия Онлайн
Yesterday · From Россия Онлайн
Жизнь. Искусство. Критика. К ЯДРУ И ПО КАСАТЕЛЬНОЙ
2 days ago · From Россия Онлайн
Увы, участники Военно-стратегической операции «Анадырь» - они же участники Карибского кризиса 1962 года, спустя 60 лет, с полным правом и с явной горечью сожаления вправе произнести эти слова: «Мы - забытые полки …» На мой взгляд, главная морально-этическая и военно-патриотическая проблема состоит в том, что воины- интернационалисты участники Карибского кризиса 1962 г. до сих пор не приравнены к участникам боевых действий.
Продолжение работы "Диалектика материального и идеального. Часть 1"
Catalog: Лайфстайл 
3 days ago · From Россия Онлайн
Catalog: Лайфстайл 
3 days ago · From Россия Онлайн
Child Kidnap Case Highlights Afghan Warlord Power
3 days ago · From Россия Онлайн
Opposition calls for special commission to investigate "voluntary" handing over of property to state
3 days ago · From Россия Онлайн
Гипотеза, выдвинутая акад. В. А. Амбарцумяном, состоит в том, что звезды образуются из некоторого сверхплотного вещества. Основой этого кажущегося неожиданным предположения является вывод, что в наблюдаемой Вселенной процессы распада преобладают над процессом соединения.
Catalog: Физика 
4 days ago · From Владимир Груздов

Actual publications:


Libmonster is the largest world open library, repository of author's heritage and archive

Register & start to create your original collection of articles, books, research, biographies, photographs, files. It's convenient and free. Click here to register as an author. Share with the world your works!

Watch out for new publications: News only: Chat for Authors:

About · News · For Advertisers · Donate to Libmonster

Russian Libmonster ® All rights reserved.
2014-2022, LIBMONSTER.RU is a part of Libmonster, international library network (open map)
Keeping the heritage of Russia


US-Great Britain Sweden Serbia
Russia Belarus Ukraine Kazakhstan Moldova Tajikistan Estonia Russia-2 Belarus-2

Create and store your author's collection at Libmonster: articles, books, studies. Libmonster will spread your heritage all over the world (through a network of branches, partner libraries, search engines, social networks). You will be able to share a link to your profile with colleagues, students, readers and other interested parties, in order to acquaint them with your copyright heritage. After registration at your disposal - more than 100 tools for creating your own author's collection. It is free: it was, it is and always will be.

Download app for smartphones