Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

More fish, less squid. Changes in Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses diets in the South Atlantic over two decades

 Grey headed Albatross Stephanie Prince Grisselle Chock shrunk

Grey-headed Albatross and chick on Bird Island, painting (acrylic on canvas, 16” x 20”) by Grisselle Chock, from a photograph by Stephanie Prince

William Mills (British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK) and colleagues have published in the journal Marine Biology on diets of two mollymawk albatrosses breeding on Bird Island in the South Atlantic.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Diet analyses can reveal important changes in seabird foraging ecology and, by inference, resource availability and predator–prey dynamics within the wider marine ecosystem.  Here, we analysed stomach contents of 1544 grey-headed albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma (GHA) and black-browed albatross T. melanophris (BBA) chicks from Bird Island, South Georgia.  We describe dietary shifts (1996–2017), and link those to annual prey availability indices and breeding success.  Annual variability in diet was high, and long-term trends in the main components were broadly similar in both albatrosses.  Fish consumption (by mass) generally increased over time.  Mackerel icefish Champsocephalus gunnari occurrence increased in GHA diets, but was unrelated to local densities derived from fisheries/research cruises.  Cephalopod consumption declined until the early 2000s, then plateaued, and the occurrence of the ommastrephid squid Martialia hyadesi declined over time in both albatrosses.  In BBAs, Antarctic krill Euphausia superba consumption decreased over time. Conversely, Antarctic krill consumption by GHAs increased until the early 2000s, decreased until the mid-2010s, and increased again in 2017.  Antarctic krill consumption was unrelated to local densities based on acoustic surveys, and did not correlate with breeding success.  Remotely sensed chlorophyll-a within core foraging areas showed a positive relationship with Antarctic krill in GHA diets, but a negative relationship with M. hyadesi occurrence in both albatross diets.  Dietary shifts had consequences for GHA breeding success, which was negatively related to the importance of the cranchiid Galiteuthis glacialis and positively related to M. hyadesi importance.  These results highlight the complex mechanisms linking prey availability, diet and breeding success in albatrosses.”

With thanks to Griselle Chock, Kitty Harvill, Richard Phillips and Stephanie Prince.

Reference:

Mills, F., Xavier, J.C., Bearhop, S., Cherel, Y., Votier, S.C., Waluda, C.M. & Phillips, R.A. 2020.  Long‑term trends in albatross diets in relation to prey availability and breeding success.  Marine Biology doi.org/10.1007/s00227-019-3630-1.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 February 2020

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