Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Read about recent developments and findings in procellariiform science and conservation relevant to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels in ACAP Latest News.

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ACAP Breeding Site No. 66. Bishop and Clerk Islets: Australia’s southernmost albatross colony

The Bishop and Clerk Islets lie approximately 33 km south of Australia’s Macquarie Island.  They consist of Bishop Islet, a rocky platform with some shallow patches of soil c. 3 ha in area with a highest point of c. 45 m, surrounded by 24 smaller islets, rocks and reefs, all of which are likely be wave-washed at times.

Bishop and Clerk Islets from the south...

 ...and from the east in 1993

Only three landings are known to have been made on the islets, all by ship-assisted helicopter, on 25 February 1965, 7 February 1976 and 23 December 1993.  The first landing was on a wave-washed rock close (c. 50 m) to Bishop Islet, the following two on the islet itself.  These visits ranged from less than an hour (in 1965) to three hours (in 1993 when seven personnel went ashore, some of whom are visible in a photograph below).

The only vascular plant recorded on Bishop Islet is the cushion plant Colobanthus muscoides “covering much of the central plateau”, along with two species of lichens.  Fifteen invertebrate species were collected during the 1993 visit.

 

 

Two views of the Black-browed Albatross colony on Bishop Islet in 1993

On all three visits, ACAP-listed and Near Threatened Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris have been recorded ashore on Bishop Islet.  At least 14 large chicks were identified on aerial photographs taken in 1967 along with at least 107 adults; 44 half-grown chicks and “many adults" were reported in 1976.

During the most recent visit in 1993 “[a] total of 141 nests [of Black-browed Albatrosses] was recorded.  Of these, 78 contained a chick, 13 an egg, ten had egg-shell fragments and 40 were empty.”  An eleven-year-old bird banded as a fledgling on Macquarie Island was present, showing interchange between the two localities.

A Black-browed Albatross on its nest on Bishop Islet in December 1993

A single Salvin’s Albatross T. cauta “of adult appearance” was present among the breeding Black-browed Albatrosses in 1993.  It did not appear to be breeding.

Other procellariiform seabirds confirmed breeding on Bishop Islet during the 1993 visit were Fairy Prion Pachyptila turtur, Wilson’s Storm Petrel Oceanites oceanicus and Common Pelecanoides urinatrix and South Georgian P. georgicus Diving Petrels.

The Bishop and Clerk Islets fall within the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve managed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. The island and its islets were declared a World Heritage Site in 1997.  Bishop & Clerk Islets have been assigned the status of a Special Management Area (SMA) restricting future landings.  The islets are surrounded by the Australian Commonwealth’s Macquarie Island Marine Park declared in 1999.

With thanks to Rachael Alderman, Noel Carmichael and Margaret Koopman for information and photographs.

Selected Literature:

Brothers, N. & Ledingham, R. 2008.  The avifauna of Bishop and Clerk Islets and its relationship to nearby Macquarie Island.  Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 142: 117-121.

Davies, K.F., Greenslade, P. & Melbourne, B.A. 1997.  The invertebrates of sub-Antarctic Bishop Island.  Polar Biology.

Environment Australia 2001.  Macquarie Island Marine Park Management Plan 2001-2008.  Canberra: Department of Environment and Heritage.

Frost, Leslie 2006.  Macquarie Island Nature Reserve and World Heritage Area Management Plan 2006.  Hobart: Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Tourism, Arts and the Environment.  176 pp. + 15 maps.

Lugg, D.J., Johnstone, G.W. & Griffin, B.J. 1978.  The outlying islands of Macquarie Island. The Geographical Journal 144: 277-287.

MacKenzie, D. 1967.  The birds and seals of the Bishop and Clerk Islets, Macquarie Island.  Emu 67: 241-245.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 March 2014

BirdLife International considers conservation implications of recent taxonomic splits of shearwaters

BirdLife International’s Global Species Programme collates information on globally threatened birds from the published literature and from a worldwide network of experts.  This is used to evaluate the status of each species using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria.

“New information on the population or range size and trends of a species, or the threats impacting it, may indicate that a species warrants uplisting or downlisting to higher or lower categories of threat.  In such cases, BirdLife’s web-based Globally Threatened Bird Forums are used to advertise the proposed change and to solicit relevant information or comment from a wide network of experts and organisations."

The Globally Threatened Seabird Forum is currently considering implications arising from recent taxonomic splits of shearwaters as summarized below.

BirdLife’s taxonomic treatment of the Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis/Audubon’s Shearwater P. lherminieri complex is being revised to reflect improved understanding of their taxonomy, and the recently described Bryan’s Shearwater P. bryani is to be recognised as a species.  Audubon’s and Little Shearwaters will be provisionally listed as of Least Concern in the 2014 Red List update, whereas Bryan’s Shearwater will likely be listed as Data Deficient.

Click here for the full arrangement proposed to be adopted by BirdLife for taxa in this complex of 11 species of small shearwaters.

BirdLife is also proposing to split Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea sensu lato (a proposed candidate for ACAP listing) into Scopoli’s Shearwater C. diomedea of the Mediterranean and Cory’s Shearwater C. borealis of the Macaronesian Islands.  Both species will likely be listed as of Least Concern in the 2014 Red List update (click here).

The initial deadline for comments on these changes is 7 April 2014.  However, discussions on Audubon’s Shearwater and the Calonectris split will remain open until at least February 2015.

Click here for earlier ACAP Latest News accounts for the recently described Bryan’s Shearwater.

Cory's Shearwater, photograph by Paulo Catry

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 13 March 2014

ACAP Breeding Site No. 65. Torishima, where Short-tailed Albatrosses have survived both feather collectors and an active volcano

Torishima (“bird island” in Japanese) is located in the southern tip of the Izu Island chain in the western Pacific, approximately 600 km to the south of Tokyo, Japan, to which country it belongs.  It is a volcanic island approximately 2.5 km across with a total area of 4.79 km2.  The highest point is Mount Iwo at 394 m.  The last volcanic activity on the island was in 2002; previous major eruptions have led to loss of life.

Torishima, photograph by Hiroshi Hasegawa, Toho University

Torishima with the locations marked of the original Short-tailed Albatross colony at Tsubama-zaki and the new colony site at Hatsune-zaki

Courtesy of Hiroshi Hasegawa

Historically uninhabited, the island became the site of a feather-collecting operation beginning in 1886.  Over the course of the next two decades possibly five million Short-tailed Albatrosses Phoebastria albatrus were slaughtered for their feathers to use in down quilts and pillows.  Feather collecting continued until the early 1930s, and by 1949 there were no longer any albatrosses breeding on the island (click here).

Historical photographs of Short-tailed Albatrosses on Torishima

Courtesy of Yamashina Institute, c. 1930

Following the Second World War, a meteorological station was established on Torishima, and the workers reported Short-tailed Albatrosses breeding on the island in 1951.

Torishima was designated a National Wildlife Protection Area in 1954.  The level of protection was further increased when the island was designated as a National Natural Monument of Japan in 1958 and as a National Natural Treasure in 1965.  Japan also designated the Short-tailed Albatross itself as a National Natural Treasure in 1958 and as a Special Natural Treasure in 1962.

The meteorological station on Torishima was abandoned in 1965 because of safety concerns regarding volcanic activity on the island following severe earthquakes.

Abandoned meteorological station on Torishima photographed by Paul Sievert

The island is now a long-term study site for researchers from Toho University and the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology.  A permit is required to make a landing and only ship-based tourism occurs.

Short-tailed Albatross on Torishma, photograph by Hiroshi Hasegawa

Approximately 80-85% of the World's population of the Vulnerable Short-tailed Albatross breeds on Torishima.  The main breeding colony is situated at Tsubame-zaki, a steeply-sloping area located in the south-east of the island (see above map).  A total of 450 pairs bred at this site in 2013.

The Tsubame-zaki colony site is located on a sparsely vegetated, fluvial outwash that is prone to erosion.  Steep cliffs surround the colony and make access difficult  Photograph by Rob Suryan

Because the Tsubame-zaki site is prone to erosion and mudslides, despite transplantations and erosion control leading to temporary improvements in breeding success, researchers commencing in 1993 hoped to draw the Short-tailed Albatrosses to breed at another locality on Torishima.  After many years of consistent effort applying social-attraction techniques (model albatrosses and a sound system) in “Operation Decoy” (click here), Short-tailed Albatrosses have been successfully attracted to a new breeding site on the island.  The new colony is in a locality known as Hatsune-zaki, a gently-sloping area on the western side of the island.  A total of 148 pairs bred in this area in 2013.  Two breeding localities on Torishima spread the risk if the volcano re-erupts.  In 2012 and 2013 the island respectively supported totals of 538 and 598 breeding pairs in the two colonies combined (click here).

Decoys and recorded sounds of a crowded colony have drawn young Short-tailed Albatrosses to breed at the Hatsune-zaki colony site

Photograph by Rob Suryan

Two colonies of ACAP-listed and Near Threatened Black-footed Albatrosses P. nigripes totalling 2060-2150 breeding pairs are present on Torishima at Hatsune-zaki (from 1988) and Tsubame-zaki (click here).  Breeding by Black-foots on Torishima was first reported in 1957 (six pairs), although adult birds have been reported from 1929.  Their numbers have been steadily increasing since then.

Other seabirds that breed on the island include Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus and Near Threatened Tristram’s Storm Petrels Oceanodroma tristrami which suffer predation from Black or Ship Rats Rattus rattus.

Click here to read of efforts by Japan with USA support to create a breeding colony of Short-tailed Albatrosses on Mukojima, a non-volcanic island, utilizing translocation techniques.

With thanks to Hiroshi Hasegawa, Toho University, Margaret Koopman, University of Cape Town and Paul Sievert, University of Massachusetts Amherst for information and photographs.

Selected Literature:

Eda, M., Koike, H., Kuro-o, M., Mihara, S., Hasegawa, H. & Higuchu, H. 2012.  Inferring the ancient population structure of the vulnerable albatross Phoebastria albatrus, combining ancient DNA, stable isotope, and morphometric analyses of archaeological samples.  Conservation Genetics 13: 143-151.

Finkelstein, M.E., Wolf, S. Goldman, M.; Doak, D.F., Sievert, P R., Balogh, G. & Hasegawa, H. 2010.  The anatomy of a (potential) disaster: volcanoes, behavior and population viability of the Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus). Biological Conservation 143: 321-331.

Hasegawa, H. 1984.  Status and conservation of seabirds in Japan, with special attention to the Short-tailed Albatross.  In:Croxall, J.P., Evans, P.G.H. & Schreiber, R.W. (Eds).  Status and Conservation of the World’s Seabirds.  Cambridge: International Council for Bird Preservation.  pp. 487-500.

Hasegawa, H. 2006.  Ahodori ni Muchu (Passionate about albatross).  Tokyo: Shin-nihon Shuppan.  182 pp.

Hasegawa, H. & DeGange, A.R. 1982.  The Short-tailed Albatross, Diomedea albatrus, its status, distribution and natural history with reference to the breeding biology of other northern hemisphere albatrosses.  American Birds 36: 806-814.

Hayashi, K., Ogi, H., Tsurumi, M. & Sato, F. 1997.  Present status and conservation of Black-footed Albatross population in the North Pacific and on Torishima.  Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology 29: 97-101.

Kuro-o, M., Yonekawa, H., Saito, S., Eda, M., Higuchi, H., Koike, H. & Hasegawa, H. 2010.  Unexpectedly high genetic diversity of mtDNA control region through severe bottleneck in vulnerable Albatross Phoebastria albatrusConservation Genetics 11: 127-137.

Sato, F. 2009.  Increase in pairs of the Short-tailed Albatross Diomedea albatrus at an artificial breeding ground.  Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology 40: 139-143.

To access more publications on Torishima’s albatrosses click here.

Rob Suryan, Oregon State University,  Tomohiro Deguchi, Yamashina Institute & John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 March 2014 

Marine ornithologist who studies ACAP-listed albatrosses and petrels is appointed Director of the prestigious Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology

Professor Peter Ryan has been appointed Director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at South Africa’s University of Cape Town with effect from the beginning of the month.  Peter has been Acting Director of the “Fiztitute” since the untimely passing last year of its previous Director, Philip Hockey.

Peter is a graduate of the University of Cape Town (UCT).  Following a First Class Zoology Honours he completed his MSc (on plastic pollution in seabirds) and his PhD (on the endemic finches of Triston da Cunha’s Inaccessible Island) at UCT.  After a post-doc in California, he returned to South Africa to take up a lectureship post in the Institute in 1993.

Peter Ryan poses with the flag of Tristan da Cunha on the top of Stoltenthoff Islet with Nightingale Island in the background

Photograph by Tristan Islander Norman Glass

For the last two decades, Peter has been in charge of the FitzPatrick Institute’s research programmes on ACAP-listed and other seabirds at South Africa’s Prince Edward Islands in the southern Indian Ocean and on the Tristan islands, especially Gough and Inaccessible, in the South Atlantic, as well as at sea in the Southern Ocean.

His long-term research on the endemic and ACAP-listed Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata of Inaccessible has first shown the petrel is specifically distinct from the White-chinned Petrel P. aequinoctialis, and then has shown that its population is steadily increasing, allowing it be downlisted from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable in 2007 by BirdLife International.

Spectacled Petrels on Inaccessible Island, photographs by Peter Ryan

Peter Ryan has served on the ACAP Advisory Committee’s Taxonomic Working Group since its inception.

For more information on Peter Ryan’s ornithological career, including a full publication list click here.

Selected Literature:

Reid, T.A., Ronconi, R.A., Cuthbert, R.J. & Ryan, P.G. 2014.  The summer foraging ranges of adult Spectacled Petrels Procellaria conspicillata.  Antarctic Science 26: 23-32.

Ryan, P.G. & Moloney, C.L. 2000.  The status of Spectacled Petrels Procellaria conspicillata and other seabirds at Inaccessible Island.  Marine Ornithology 28: 93-100.

Ryan, P.G. & Ronconi, R.[A.] 2011.  Continued increase in numbers of Spectacled Petrels Procellaria conspicillata. Antarctic Science 23: 332-336.

Ryan, P.G., Dorse, C. & Hilton, G.M. 2006.  The conservation status of the Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata.  Biological Conservation 131: 575-583.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 March 2014

Dividing up the (fishy) pie: resource separation among albatrosses and petrels in the South Atlantic

Thomas Bodey (Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn, UK) and colleagues write in the Journal of Animal Ecology on resource partitioning by selected albatrosses and petrels that occur on Bird Island in the South Atlantic during both summer (breeding) and winter (non-breeding) months.

The paper’s summary follows:

  1. Interspecific competitive interactions typically result in niche differentiation to alleviate competition through mechanisms including character displacement.  However, competition is not the sole constraint on resource partitioning, and its effects are mediated by factors including the environmental context in which species coexist.
  2. Colonial seabirds provide an excellent opportunity to investigate the importance of competition in shaping realized niche widths because their life histories lead to variation in intra- and interspecific competition across the annual cycle.  Dense breeding aggregations result in intense competition for prey in surrounding waters, whereas non-breeding dispersal to larger geographical areas produces lower densities of competitors.
  3. Bayesian hierarchical models of the isotopic niche, closely aligned to the trophic niche, reveal the degree of segregation between species and functional groups during both time periods.  Surprisingly, species explained far more of the variance in the isotopic niche during the non-breeding than the breeding period.
  4. Our results underline the key role of non-breeding dynamics in alleviating competition and promoting distinctions between species through the facilitation of resource partitioning.  Such situations may be common in a diverse range of communities sustained by ephemeral but abundant food items.
  5. This highlights how consideration of the hierarchical grouping of competitive interactions alongside consideration of abiotic constraints across the complete annual cycle allows a full understanding of the role of competition in driving patterns of character displacement.

Grey-headed Albatross on Bird Island, photograph by Richard Phillips

With thanks to Barry Baker for information.

Reference:

Bodey, T.W., Ward, E.J., Phillips, R.A., McGill, R.A.R. & Bearhop, S. 2014.  Species versus guild level differentiation revealed across the annual cycle by isotopic niche examination.  Journal of Animal Ecology 83: 470-478.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 10 March 2014

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