Albatross species finds it easier to fly with changing winds near South Pole
Winds off the Southern Ocean, around Antarctica, are shifting, making it easier for a particular species of albatross to fly farther.
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Wind data from the vicinity of the Crozet Islands taken during the 1960s on shows a continuous increase in the north-to-south component of winds, as well as a shift poleward, over the past 50 years, a trend that also shows up in more recent satellite observations, according to Weimerskirch.Skip to next paragraph
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He and colleagues compared wind data to data collected from the albatross colony. Starting in 1966, researchers began recording the length of foraging trips, breeding success and body mass. Then in 1989 they began recording where the birds flew using satellite-tracking devices.
The satellite data showed the birds, particularly the smaller-bodied females, took advantage of the shift in the winds to forage farther south.
Travel speed for both sexes, which includes rest time on the surface of the water, increased, as did flight speed for females. This meant shorter foraging trips for everyone — a big benefit for the albatross population, because length of foraging trips has a direct effect on chick survival. If one parent is gone for too long, the remaining parent may desert the nest in search of its own food.
Benefiting from climate change
Between 1989 and 2010, they found the north-south-wind component picked up by 11 percent, while the albatrosses traveled 13 percent faster, and breeding success improved by 12 percent.
Other data from the colony also showed an increase in the weight of the incubating parents in the past 20 years, and a 22-percent decrease since 1970 in the duration of foraging trips by parents with a partner incubating an egg.
"Wandering albatrosses appear so far to have benefited from wind changes occurring in the Southern Ocean, with higher speeds allowing for more rapid travel," the researchers write.
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