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Climate change is making monogamous albatrosses divorce – new research
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Climate change is making monogamous albatrosses divorce – new research

Birds congregate on a green hillside


Not all relationships end in “happily ever after”, and birds are no exception. While more than 90%Many monogamous relationships between bird species can lead to divorce.

There are many reasons why people split up, and they can be as varied in birds than in humans. These include poor compatibility and slacking off by one spouse. New research has revealed a surprising cause for divorce: climate change.

Black-browed albatrosses can form monogamous couples that can last the entire time they live, just like other seabirds. But, only 2% of black-browed albatrosses are monogamous. under 4%Each year, many of these couples will split. This data is based on 18 years of extensive observation. a teamResearchers have been studying the causes of divorce among birds of this species in the Falkland islands.

Environment conditions profoundly affect animals’ survival and ability to breed successfully. As divorce often follows a bird couple’s failure to raise chicks, researchers imagined that in harsher environments – which could lead to lower breeding success – divorce might be more common.

Birds congregate on a green hillside
The Falkland Islands were home to the largest colony of albatrosses ever studied.
Natasha Gillies, Author provided

The team concentrated on two environmental metrics. The team first examined sea surface temperature anomalies, which occur when the annual temperature of the ocean’s surface changes significantly from a 30-year average value.

Higher temperatures than usual are correlated with more anomalies. These temperature increases make it difficult to feed organisms at the bottom end of the food chain like phytoplanktonTo grow means that animals higher up in the food chain have less food, such as seabirds.

Second, they measured wind speed. They were astonished by their extraordinary ability to measure wind speed. long wingspanAlbatrosses can fly up to 2.5m. They require strong winds to fly and make their way. record-breaking migrationsOver the ocean. Stronger wind currents are a benefit to albatrosses, allowing them fly long distances with relative ease.

Researchers found that wind does not cause couples to divorce, but they did find an increase in divorce rates as a result of temperature anomalies. Also, the more warm the ocean, the less likely albatrosses are to stay with their partner.

Why do albatrosses separate?

Many animals that do not conceive in one season will end up divorcing their partner the next. Their logic is strategic: “I’ll stay with you if we’re successful in having children, and if not, I’ll try someone else”.

A parent grooms its chick
Seabird divorces are common because of failure to breed.
Natasha Gillies, Author provided

This approach seems to be used by Albatrosses when deciding whether or not to split up. Females whose eggs didn’t hatch were five times more likely to divorce their partner than those who raised a chick to fledging at four months old, or whose chicks died later on.

This is logical. Eggs that don’t hatch probably indicate infertility or incompatibility between partners, whereas losing a chick is usually due to predation – an unlucky event that often isn’t your partner’s fault.

However, this studyIncreases in temperature anomalies lead to higher divorce rates than other breeding problems. This means that a female in a successful relationship would be expected to stay with her partner if the sea surface temperatures were higher than usual. So what’s going on?

Two birds display
Albatrosses form monogamous couples.
Natasha Gillies, Author provided

There are many reasons environmental conditions could cause divorce. Animals can often be separated from their breeding season outside of breeding season. migrateTo areas where there is more food. They can rest and eat there in preparation to breed.

Animals that are unable to find food due to poor environmental conditions may take longer to find food, and may end up returning to their breeding colonies late. This could result in partners returning home at different times, which could lead the to divorce. For example, if a male’s partner arrives to the colony long before him, she may end up taken by someone else before the two have the chance to reunite.

Warm ocean conditions could also make it difficult to decide whether to divorce. If your partner is a lazy parent, it’s possible to pick up their slack and spend more time at the nest feeding and protecting the chicks. This could mean that you decide to divorce them and start a new life with someone who is more generous.

A chick under its parent
Partners who don’t contribute to raising chicks risk getting divorced.
Natasha Gillies, Author provided

In years with warm oceans albatrossesYou may find it harder to find food. The birds might mistakenly blame their partner for their own hardships – assuming that they are suffering because their partner isn’t pulling their weight to take care of their chick, rather than because the environment is sub-par.

While divorce can be beneficial for many animals it also has its drawbacks. For some seabirds, newly-formed partners are advantageous. less successfulTheir chicks. Climate change could increase divorce rates, which could lead to a decrease in the number of albatrosses entering the world and a reduction in the overall population.

These findings suggest that we should be more attentive to whether climate-driven patterns appear in our lives. other speciesIt provides us with valuable insight into the many ways that climate change is affecting our planet and those around it.


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