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"The causes, consequences and conservation implications of individual specialisation in seabirds"

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Being a bold bird doesn't make you bycatch.

Research into animal behaviour can yield surprising results and contribute to their safety vis-à-vis human activities. EU researchers wondered, 'Do albatrosses have individual personalities, and would having a personality affect their survival?'

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

Albatrosses are among the largest flying birds on Earth and among the most endangered. Identifiable threats to their survival include climate change and the rate at which they are caught as fisheries bycatch. With bycatch being the seemingly easier challenge to mitigate, figuring out why albatrosses get caught up in fishing nets is a pressing question. To answer it, EU-funded researchers established the project 'The causes, consequences and conservation implications of individual specialisation in seabirds' (ALBASPECIALISATION). They set out to produce the first complete datasets describing the life history of black-browed (Thalassarche melanophrys) and wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans). What they found was unexpected and complicated. Researchers discovered that birds from both species have distinct individual personalities. Furthermore, personality traits can be inherited by wandering albatross offspring, and boldness appears to influence fitness only in males. Conversely, bold female black-browed albatrosses had higher fitness levels than bold males. Males that foraged close to the colony had higher fitness levels, but the effect of foraging near the colony was more variable for females. Incidentally, researchers did not have enough data to determine whether black-browed albatrosses also pass on their personalities to their chicks. The researchers observed the two species in considerably different foraging circumstances. The black-browed albatross were brooding their chicks, and faced considerable competition for food close to the colony. In contrast, the wandering albatrosses were incubating their eggs. The timing meant these birds went on longer foraging trips, and thus faced less competition for food near the colony. Data were collected for both groups. Despite such variability in foraging conditions, the researchers speculated that personality could be central to albatross survival. Essentially, researchers anticipated that bolder birds would be more likely to be caught in fishing nets. However, direct observation and data analysis compelled the ALBASPECIALISATION team to discard this hypothesis. Their results show that having a bold personality does not predict whether an albatross will make risky decisions near fishing operations. Nevertheless, ALBASPECIALISATION confirmed that individual personality traits do affect foraging strategies, and thus play a key role in albatross survival at individual and population levels.

Keywords

Albatross, bird survival, animal personalities, foraging, fisheries bycatch

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