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The effect of climate change on tropical sea birds

Tropical oceans are a major biome and of significant socio-economic importance. In-depth research, like that of a recent EU-funded project, is crucial for evaluating the effects of climate change and resource exploitation on tropical ocean ecosystems.
The effect of climate change on tropical sea birds
The SEAFUTURE project set out to determine the functional relationships between sea bird ecology, the biophysical environment and fisheries in the tropical Indian Ocean. To accomplish its objective, Fregatidae and Sulidae sea birds were chosen to study different habitats in the tropical Indian Ocean. These habitats were coastal, in-shore and oceanic, and offshore. Multi-year data sets on sea bird ecology were used to evaluate the effect of varying oceanographic conditions.

Project results showed that different oceanographic conditions had little to no effect on the foraging behaviour of in-shore species. In contrast, however, purely offshore/oceanic foraging species showed distinct responses in their foraging behaviour to unfavourable oceanographic conditions.

When marine conditions were unfavourable, trip duration and distance increased and dives got deeper, resulting in greater fasting stints. This increases the problem of adult birds sustaining themselves and their young, which might eventually affect population size.

Another result is that rain severely affects the breeding success of all species. This is a crucial point since climate change predictions indicate that extreme weather events, like storms and cyclones, will increase in intensity, frequency and duration.

SEAFUTURE's study results have aided understanding of how tropical sea birds are affected by changing environmental conditions. This will help ecologists, demographers, and wildlife and fisheries managers to predict how sea bird populations will cope with ongoing anthropogenic changes.

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