Wandering albatross grows larger and flies faster because of climate change — for now


Click on photo to enlargePhoto by LarryJW

Wandering albatrosses have altered their foraging due to changes in wind fields in the southern hemisphere during the last decades. Since winds have increased in intensity and moved to the south, the flight speed of albatrosses increased and they spend less time foraging. As a consequence, breeding success has improved and birds have gained 1 kilogram. These are the results of the study of an international research team published in the latest issue of the Science journal. However, these positive consequences of climate change may last short if future wind fields follow predictions of climate change scenarios…

For this study, biologists had combined data on the duration of foraging trips and breeding success over the last 40 years, as well as foraging and body mass over the last 20 years of wandering albatross breeding in Crozet Islands. This archipelago lies approximately in the heart of the southern Indian Ocean (halfway between Madagascar and Antarctica). It belongs to the French Southern Territories and it is located in the windiest part of the Southern Ocean…

Thanks to miniaturised tracking devices, researchers were able to track the foraging movement of albatrosses at a distance of 3500 kilometers from the colony. They found that albatross have altered their search patterns following changes in wind conditions over the past two decades. Females used increasingly more poleward and windy areas for foraging. As a consequence their travel speed increased while the total distance covered during foraging flights did not change. “This means that they spend less time at sea while incubating the egg and thus the breeding success increases” explains Dr. Henri Weimerskirch…Researchers were surprised that both females and males have increased their body mass in one kilogram, which corresponds approximately to one tenth of their total body weight. This could be not only a result of shorter incubation periods on the nest, but also an adaptation to windier conditions…

The wandering albatross has fascinated people for centuries. With a wingspan of over three meters and a half, it is the largest seabird in the world…This elegant sailor, which spends most of its life flying, breeds on remote subantarctic islands over the Southern Ocean. They travel thousand of kilometers searching for fish and cephalopods like squids, often following ships and feeding on offal. The plumage of wandering albatrosses is variable, whitening with age. The maximum known age is 55 years old…

Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

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