Climate Change Gives the Albatross a Lift

on 12 January 2012, 2:00 PM

Credit: Paul Tixier; (inset) Henri Weimerskirch

While many species have suffered from climate change, the wandering albatross seems to have benefited. Long-term warming in recent decades has boosted temperatures and altered precipitation in many regions, but it has also increased average wind speeds over the southwestern Indian Ocean. Thanks to the increased wind speeds there, the albatross has, on average, gained weight and bred more successfully, researchers report online today in Science. Specifically, higher wind speeds have meant that foraging trips during nesting season, throughout which males and females take turns incubating eggs and tending to chicks, are shorter—an average of 9.7 days in 2008, compared with 12.4 days in 1970. And shorter shifts on the nest, in turn, resulted in fewer abandoned eggs and chicks: While, on average, about 66% of eggs laid in 1970 resulted in live chicks; in 2008 that proportion had jumped to about 77%. Shorter shifts babysitting also caused the albatrosses to fatten up: Even though the birds aren't lengthier, they weigh, on average, 1 kilogram more now than they did 20 years ago—a 10% to 12% increase in body mass. This helps these long-distance champions better withstand the stresses imposed on their wings and bodies by stronger winds and, therefore, better exploit the windier conditions wrought by climate change, the researchers say.

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