Divorce Albatros in the middle of warm waters

Release date: Week of May 27, 2022

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Albatross parents tend to their egg. (Photo: David Patte, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Albatrosses usually mate for life, but new evidence shows that warming waters may lead to increased separation of albatross pairs. Living on Earth’s Don Lyman has the report.


BASCOMB: Coming after the break, NASA has the very first records from Mars, but first this Emerging Science Note from Don Lyman.


LYMAN: Albatrosses, like most bird species, are monogamous and usually mate for life. However, a new study has found that warming ocean waters induced by climate change have led to an increase in the number of albatrosses leaving their mates prematurely. The typical divorce rate for albatrosses is less than four percent, but researchers in the Falkland Islands have found that rate doubles to almost eight percent in years when the ocean is warmer than usual.
Scientists analyzed data collected from 2004 to 2019 on a large colony of black-browed albatrosses living on New Island in the Falklands. Breeding failure was still the main factor separating albatrosses, but the divorce rate increased with a proportional increase in average water temperatures and peaked at 7.7% in 2017 when ocean waters were the hottest. Researchers found that the likelihood of divorce was correlated with rising water temperatures, and even females in successful breeding pairs were more likely to be affected by warmer water than males or females that did not. did not reproduce or failed in their attempts to reproduce.
As ocean temperatures declined in 2018 and 2019, albatross divorce rates also declined. The researchers said this is the first evidence that environmental factors, not just breeding failure, can cause wild birds to separate. The scientists said the warmer water contains fewer nutrients, so they suspect some birds may be at sea longer than usual in search of food, delaying their return to the colony and if members of couple come back at different times, it could cause them to break up. Or, if they don’t get enough food, they might come back unhealthy and unfit to breed.

A pair of short-tailed albatrosses face each other. (Photo: FWS Klavitter, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Additionally, the researchers hypothesized that worse environmental conditions could increase stress-related hormones in birds, which could affect mate choice. Scientists speculate that a bird could mistakenly attribute its stress to its mate, instead of the harsher environment, and leave its mate even if the hatch was successful.
Researchers say black-browed albatross populations are healthy, with ample availability of alternative mates, so an increase in divorce rates does not raise immediate conservation concerns. But populations of other albatross species are declining, so if this environmental divorce is documented in these species, it could be of concern. That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I am Don Lyman.



The conversation | “Climate Change Is Divorcing Monogamous Albatrosses – New Research”

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