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Concept: Albatross


Plastic pollution in the ocean is a global concern; concentrations reach 580,000 pieces per km(2) and production is increasing exponentially. Although a large number of empirical studies provide emerging evidence of impacts to wildlife, there has been little systematic assessment of risk. We performed a spatial risk analysis using predicted debris distributions and ranges for 186 seabird species to model debris exposure. We adjusted the model using published data on plastic ingestion by seabirds. Eighty of 135 (59%) species with studies reported in the literature between 1962 and 2012 had ingested plastic, and, within those studies, on average 29% of individuals had plastic in their gut. Standardizing the data for time and species, we estimate the ingestion rate would reach 90% of individuals if these studies were conducted today. Using these results from the literature, we tuned our risk model and were able to capture 71% of the variation in plastic ingestion based on a model including exposure, time, study method, and body size. We used this tuned model to predict risk across seabird species at the global scale. The highest area of expected impact occurs at the Southern Ocean boundary in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, which contrasts with previous work identifying this area as having low anthropogenic pressures and concentrations of marine debris. We predict that plastics ingestion is increasing in seabirds, that it will reach 99% of all species by 2050, and that effective waste management can reduce this threat.

Concepts: Scientific method, Atlantic Ocean, Albatross, Plastic, New Zealand, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Waste


Albatrosses do something that no other birds are able to do: fly thousands of kilometres at no mechanical cost. This is possible because they use dynamic soaring, a flight mode that enables them to gain the energy required for flying from wind. Until now, the physical mechanisms of the energy gain in terms of the energy transfer from the wind to the bird were mostly unknown. Here we show that the energy gain is achieved by a dynamic flight manoeuvre consisting of a continually repeated up-down curve with optimal adjustment to the wind. We determined the energy obtained from the wind by analysing the measured trajectories of free flying birds using a new GPS-signal tracking method yielding a high precision. Our results reveal an evolutionary adaptation to an extreme environment, and may support recent biologically inspired research on robotic aircraft that might utilize albatrosses' flight technique for engineless propulsion.

Concepts: Evolution, Bird, Albatross, Seabird, Flying and gliding animals, Procellariiformes, Aircraft, Dynamic soaring


Capture in global pelagic longline fisheries threatens the viability of some seabird populations. The Hawaii longline tuna fishery annually catches hundreds of seabirds, primarily Laysan (Phoebastria immutabilis) and black-footed (P. nigripes) albatrosses. Since seabird regulations were introduced in 2001, the seabird catch rate has declined 74%. However, over the past decade, seabird catch levels significantly increased due to significant increasing trends in both effort and nominal seabird catch rates. We modelled observer data using a spatio-temporal generalized additive mixed model with zero-inflated Poisson likelihood to determine the significance of the effect of various risk factors on the seabird catch rate. The seabird catch rate significantly increased as annual mean multivariate ENSO index values increased, suggesting that decreasing ocean productivity observed in recent years in the central north Pacific may have contributed to the increasing trend in nominal seabird catch rate. A significant increasing trend in number of albatrosses attending vessels, possibly linked to declining regional ocean productivity and increasing absolute abundance of black-footed albatrosses, may also have contributed to the increasing nominal seabird catch rate. Largest opportunities for reductions are through augmented efficacy of seabird bycatch mitigation north of 23° N where mitigation methods are required and during setting instead of during hauling. Both side vs. stern setting, and blue-dyed vs. untreated bait significantly reduced the seabird catch rate. Of two options for meeting regulatory requirements, side setting had a significantly lower seabird catch rate than blue-dyed bait. There was significant spatio-temporal and seasonal variation in the risk of seabird capture with highest catch rates in April and May and to the northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands.

Concepts: Albatross, Seabird, Hawaiian Islands, Procellariiformes, Tuna, Bycatch, Laysan Albatross, Longline fishing


Most seabirds are very noisy at their breeding colonies, when aggregated in high densities. Calls are used for individual recognition and also emitted during agonistic interactions. When at sea, many seabirds aggregate over patchily distributed resources and may benefit from foraging in groups. Because these aggregations are so common, it raises the question of whether seabirds use acoustic communication when foraging at sea? We deployed video-cameras with built in microphones on 36 Cape gannets (Morus capensis) during the breeding season of 2010-2011 at Bird Island (Algoa Bay, South Africa) to study their foraging behaviour and vocal activity at sea. Group formation was derived from the camera footage. During ~42 h, calls were recorded on 72 occasions from 16 birds. Vocalization exclusively took place in the presence of conspecifics, and mostly in feeding aggregations (81% of the vocalizations). From the observation of the behaviours of birds associated with the emission of calls, we suggest that the calls were emitted to avoid collisions between birds. Our observations show that at least some seabirds use acoustic communication when foraging at sea. These findings open up new perspectives for research on seabirds foraging ecology and their interactions at sea.

Concepts: Bird, Albatross, Seabird, Sound, Foraging, Gannet, Gannets, Sulidae


Consistent with a warming climate, birds are shifting the timing of their migrations, but it remains unclear to what extent these shifts have kept pace with the changing environment. Because bird migration is primarily cued by annually consistent physiological responses to photoperiod, but conditions at their breeding grounds depend on annually variable climate, bird arrival and climate-driven spring events would diverge. We combined satellite and citizen science data to estimate rates of change in phenological interval between spring green-up and migratory arrival for 48 breeding passerine species across North America. Both arrival and green-up changed over time, usually in the same direction (earlier or later). Although birds adjusted their arrival dates, 9 of 48 species did not keep pace with rapidly changing green-up and across all species the interval between arrival and green-up increased by over half a day per year. As green-up became earlier in the east, arrival of eastern breeding species increasingly lagged behind green-up, whereas in the west-where green-up typically became later-birds arrived increasingly earlier relative to green-up. Our results highlight that phenologies of species and trophic levels can shift at different rates, potentially leading to phenological mismatches with negative fitness consequences.

Concepts: Ecology, Bird, Cuckoo, Albatross, Human migration, Seabird, Change, Bird migration


Excessive or misdirected artificial light at night (ALAN) produces light pollution that influences several aspects of the biology and ecology of birds, including disruption of circadian rhythms and disorientation during flight. Many migrating birds traverse large expanses of land twice every year at night when ALAN illuminates the sky. Considering the extensive and increasing encroachment of light pollution around the world, we evaluated the association of the annual mean ALAN intensity over land within the geographic ranges of 298 nocturnally migrating bird species with five factors: phase of annual cycle, mean distance between breeding and non-breeding ranges, range size, global hemisphere of range, and IUCN category of conservation concern. Light pollution within geographic ranges was relatively greater during the migration season, for shorter-distance migrants, for species with smaller ranges, and for species in the western hemisphere. Our results suggest that migratory birds may be subject to the effects of light pollution particularly during migration, the most critical stage in their annual cycle. We hope these results will spur further research on how light pollution affects not only migrating birds, but also other highly mobile animals throughout their annual cycle.

Concepts: Bird, Cuckoo, Albatross, Seabird, Lighting, Light pollution, Bird migration, Bird flight


Anthropogenic debris in the world’s oceans and coastal environments is a pervasive global issue that has both direct and indirect impacts on avifauna. The number of bird species affected, the feeding ecologies associated with an increased risk of debris ingestion, and selectivity of ingested debris have yet to be investigated in most of Australia’s coastal and marine birds. With this study we aim to address the paucity of data regarding marine debris ingestion in Australian coastal and marine bird species. We investigated which Australian bird groups ingest marine debris, and whether debris-ingesting groups exhibit selectivity associated with their taxonomy, habitat or foraging methods. Here we present the largest multispecies study of anthropogenic debris ingestion in Australasian avifauna to date. We necropsied and investigated the gastrointestinal contents of 378 birds across 61 species, collected dead across eastern Australia. These species represented nine taxonomic orders, five habitat groups and six feeding strategies. Among investigated species, thirty percent had ingested debris, though ingestion did not occur uniformly within the orders of birds surveyed. Debris ingestion was found to occur in orders Procellariiformes, Suliformes, Charadriiformes and Pelecaniformes, across all surveyed habitats, and among birds that foraged by surface feeding, pursuit diving and search-by-sight. Procellariiformes, birds in pelagic habitats, and surface feeding marine birds ingested debris with the greatest frequency. Among birds which were found to ingest marine debris, we investigated debris selectivity and found that marine birds were selective with respect to both type and colour of debris. Selectivity for type and colour of debris significantly correlated with taxonomic order, habitat and foraging strategy. This study highlights the significant impact of feeding ecology on debris ingestion among Australia’s avifauna.

Concepts: Eating, Ingestion, Bird, Albatross, Seabird, Penguin, Procellariiformes, Shearwater


Studies on the parasitic fauna of migratory sea birds of the Puffinus genus are scarce. Therefore, the aim of this study was to identify parasites of 16 specimens of Puffinus puffinus (Procellariiformes, Procellariidae) that died during the period of June 2011 to December 2011 at the Wildlife Screening Center (CETAS) of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) in Cabedelo, Paraíba. During necropsy, biting lice and/or gastrointestinal helminths were collected in seven (43.7 %) birds. Lice were collected in five (31.2 %) birds, and the species identified were Halipeurus diversus, Trabeculus aviator, Austromenopon paululum), Saemundssonia sp. and Naubates sp. The prevalence of helminths was also 31.2 %. The nematodes species were Seuratia shipleyi and Contracaecum sp., and cestodes were Tetrabothrius sp. This is the first record in Brazil of Naubates sp., Seuratia shipleyi, Contracaecum sp., and Tetrabothrius sp. in Puffinus puffinus.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Bird, Albatross, Seabird, Brazil, Shearwater, Procellariidae, Manx Shearwater


Fisheries provide an abundant and predictable food source for many pelagic seabirds through discards, but also pose a major threat to them through bycatch, threatening their populations worldwide. The reform of the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which intends to ban discards through the landing obligation of all catches, may force seabirds to seek alternative food sources, such as baited hooks from longlines, increasing bycatch rates. To test this hypothesis we performed a combined analysis of seabird-fishery interactions using as a model Scopoli’s shearwaters Calonectris diomedea in the Mediterranean. Tracking data showed that the probability of shearwaters attending longliners increased exponentially with a decreasing density of trawlers. On-board observations and mortality events corroborated this result: the probability of birds attending longliners increased 4% per each trawler leaving the longliner proximity and bird mortality increased tenfold when trawlers were not operating. Therefore, the implementation of the landing obligation in EU waters will likely cause a substantial increase in bycatch rates in longliners, at least in the short-term, due to birds switching from trawlers to longliners. Thus the implementation of the landing obligation must be carefully monitored and counterbalanced with an urgent implementation of bycatch mitigation measures in the longline fleet.

Concepts: Bird, Albatross, Seabird, Procellariiformes, Shearwater, Procellariidae, Cory's Shearwater, Longline fishing


String-pulling is one of the most popular tests in animal cognition because of its apparent complexity, and of its potential to be applied to very different taxa. In birds, the basic procedure involves a food reward, suspended from a perch by a string, which can be reached by a series of coordinated pulling actions with the beak and holding actions of the pulled lengths of string with the foot. The taxonomic distribution of species that pass the test includes several corvids, parrots and parids, but in other families, data are much spottier and the number of individuals per species that succeed is often low. To date, the association between string-pulling ability and other cognitive traits was never tested. It is generally assumed that string-pulling is a complex form of problem-solving, suggesting that performance on string-pulling and other problem-solving tasks should be correlated. Here, we show that individuals of two innovative species from Barbados, the bullfinch Loxigilla barbadensis and the Carib grackle Quiscalus lugubris fortirostris, pass the string-pulling test. Eighteen of the 42 bullfinches tested succeeded, allowing us to correlate performance on this test to that on several other behavioral measurements. Surprisingly, string-pulling in bullfinches was unrelated to shyness, neophobia, problem-solving, discrimination and reversal learning performance. Only two of 31 grackles tested succeeded, precluding correlational analyses with other measures but still, the two successful birds largely differed in their other behavioral traits.

Concepts: Psychology, Complexity, Albatross, Taxonomic rank, Quiscalus, Loxigilla, Carib Grackle, Grackle