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Worsening wind forecasts signal stormy times ahead for seabirds

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Cormorant-like seabirds, known as shags are pictured. Credit: Richard Bardgett

Worsening wind forecasts signal stormy times ahead for seabirds

August 18, 2015 University of Edinburg

Stronger winds forecast as a result of climate change could impact on populations of wild animals, by affecting how well they can feed, a study of seabirds suggests. Research into a common UK coastal seabird showed that when winds are strong, females take much longer to find food compared with their male counterparts. Researchers expect that if wind conditions worsen — as they are forecast to do — this could impact on the wellbeing of female birds, and ultimately affect population sizes. In many seabird species, females are smaller and lighter than males, and so must work harder to dive through turbulent water. They may not hold their breath for as long, fly so efficiently nor dive as deeply as males. The latest results suggest that in poor weather conditions, this sex difference is exaggerated. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and British Antarctic Survey carried out their two-year study into cormorant-like birds, known as shags, on the Isle of May National Nature Reserve in south-east Scotland. Small tracking devices were attached to the legs of birds and measured how long they foraged for fish in the sea. Scientists found that when coastal winds were strong or blowing towards the shore, females took much longer to find food compared with males. The difference in time spent foraging became more marked between the sexes when conditions worsened, suggesting that female birds are more likely to continue foraging even in the poorest conditions…..

 

Sue Lewis, Richard A. Phillips, Sarah J. Burthe, Sarah Wanless, Francis Daunt. Contrasting responses of male and female foraging effort to year-round wind conditions. Journal of Animal Ecology, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12419

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