Maritime Meadows

The Isles of Shoals, an archipelago comprising nine islands and numerous smaller rocky ledges, lies in the Gulf of Maine ca. six miles east from the nearest point on the mainland at Rye, New Hampshire. Of the 14 natural communities that have been documented by NH Natural Heritage on these islands, none are more dynamic during the summer months than the maritime meadow

This community, characterized by forbs and graminoids and invariably linked to seabird nesting colonies, dominates upland habitats landward of the immediate shoreline on most of the smaller islands (i.e., Duck, Malaga, Seaveys, and White) and considerable areas of Appledore and Smuttynose where sizable nesting colonies occur. Guano deposition from gulls and cormorants plays a significant role in maintaining species composition and structure in this community. Gulls and cormorants also pull and trample vegetation in nesting areas. Shrub cover is markedly reduced or absent.

One biologist recently noted “the influence of larger birds on Duck Island, where hardly a sprig of a living woody form can be found, and where the air reeks of guano, is the extreme example.” Collecting data in a maritime meadow while gulls are raising their young can be quite an adventure.  Required “equipment” includes a four foot long stick, not to be used to injure the gulls with but rather to hold above your head for your own protection. Adult gulls constantly swoop down on intruders, occasionally hitting the highest point on or near your body, in this case, the top of the stick and not your head.

protection sticks (photo by Bill Nichols for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)  adult great black-backed gull with two chicks (photo by Bill Nichols for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

maritime meadow natural community on the Isles of Shoals (photo by Bill Nichols for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)

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