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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Next year’s eradication of House Mice on Midway Atoll plans to save Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses from attack

The Midway Seabird Protection Project aims to eradicate introduced House Mice Mus musculus from Sand Island, part of the USA’s Midway Atoll next year.  The operation is scheduled to take place over the month of July near the end of the dry season when the mice are looking for scarce food sources and when bird numbers on the island should be at their lowest (click here to read more and to access the very detailed Final Environmental Assessment and Project Plan).  The mice in recent years have started to attack and kill breeding Black-footed Phoebastria nigripes and Laysan P. immutabilis Albatrosses (click here to access ACAP Latest News postings on Midway’s mice).  “From 2015 to 2017 the number of mouse attacks on seabirds at Midway exploded – growing from a series of isolated attacks to a widespread crisis affecting birds throughout the albatross colony”.

Mouse attack!  A wounded adult Laysan Albatross on Midway Atoll, photograph from the Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Reserve

Bait pellets containing the rodenticide Brodifacoum 25D will be spread across much of the island from helicopters using a specially designed bait hopper; buildings and surrounds will be treated by hand baiting, bait boxes and trapping.  Prior to the start of the project, a mitigation team will attempt to capture some 400 individuals of the Critically Endangered Laysan Duck Anas laysanensis on Sand Island that have been deemed to be at risk to poisoning.  Captive ducks and also globally Vulnerable Bristle-thighed Curlews Numenius tahitiensis and perhaps other shorebirds (which do not breed on Midway) will be kept in aviaries on Sand Island until immediately before the July application period.  They will then be moved to corresponding aviaries or released following wing clipping on nearby mouse-free Eastern Island where they will be kept until monitoring teams deem it safe to release them back on Sand Island.  Few migratory shorebirds are expected to be on Midway in July.  Strict biosecurity procedures already in existence will continue after the bait drop to minimise the chances of mice being reintroduced to the atoll.

One of the partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Midway Seabird Protection Project is the NGO Island Conservation, which is aiming to raise one million US Dollars towards the cost of the eradication exercise via an Adopt an Albatross campaign (click here).  It has now reported via its Facebook page that due to “generous contributions of our donors and partners” the funding gap is now US$750 000.   Financial support has also come from the Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Reserve (FOMA) which has made US$20 000 available for the construction of the required aviaries as reported on ts Facebook page.

Aviaries under construction on Midway's Sand Island, photograph from the Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Reserve

Next year will be the first year that a World Albatross Day is held, on 19 June, the date the Agreement was signed in Australia.  The chosen inaugural theme is “Eradicating Island Pests”.  ACAP Latest News will follow progress towards next year’s Midway eradication as part of the build up to World Albatross Day.

Reference:

Hamer Environmental L.P. and Planning Solutions, Inc. 2019.  Midway Seabird Protection Project Final Environmental Assessment Sand Island, Midway Atoll, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  Honolulu: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  350 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 09 October 2019

The American Bird Conservancy will support World Albatross Day activities next year

Following an exchange of letters the American Bird Conservancy will participate with ACAP in the inauguration of World Albatross Day on 19 June next year – and in future years.  Mike Parr, President and Clare Nielsen, Vice President, Communications of the American Bird Conservancy have written to ACAP: “We plan to participate by providing social media content to raise awareness of albatrosses and their conservation needs.”

ACAP’s Executive Secretary, Christine Bogle, expressed her pleasure with the development: “I look forward to ACAP working closely with the conservancy to promote the first World Albatross Day in 2020”.  She noted that two threatened ACAP-listed species occurring in Pacific waters, the Critically Endangered Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata of Ecuador, and the Vulnerable Pink-footed Shearwater Ardenna creatopus, endemic to Chile, were of especial interest to both organizations.

Hannah Nevins, American Bird Conservancy’s Seabird Program Director, has written to ACAP Latest News: “World Albatross Day is a chance to celebrate one of the most awe-inspiring creatures on this earth.  Albatross link us to the ocean.  The fact that these birds are affected by plastics and other marine debris reminds us that our actions on land affect them and their watery realm.” Following the letter exchange, Hannah has been co-opted to ACAP’s World Albatross Day Intersessional Group, which is chaired by Verónica López from Chile.

Hannah Nevins, Seabird Program Director, American Bird Conservancy

The mission of the ABC, a non-profit organization based in the United States, is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas.  Its Seabird Program works to protect seabirds through direct conservation, outreach and policy work.  Albatross conservation is regarded as a priority in the Americas and globally by the conservancy where it can increase awareness and address threats.

With thanks to Verónica López and Hannah Nevins.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 08 October 2019

A feral cat is filmed feeding on a White-capped Albatross chick on Auckland Island

A feral cat Felis catus was photographed and videoed feeding from the corpse of a White-capped Albatross Thalassarche steadi chick (Near Threatened) on its nest at South-West Cape on New Zealand’s Auckland Island on 25 and 26 August this year (click here).

 

 

A feral cat feeds from a White-capped Albatross chick on Auckland Island, August 2019;  photographs by Department of Conservation o Te Papa Atawhai

Stephen Horn, Project Manager - Maukahuka - Pest free Auckland Island, has written to ACAP Latest News over the incident:

“The cat was first seen basking in the sun about 5 to 10 metres from the dead bird and the photographers waited for a couple of hours before it strolled down the hill and resumed feeding on it and they got the photos.  It was still there the next day.  Unable to say if it was just scavenging or had killed it.  The neck muscles had all been eaten and it was feeding on the back, no damage to the breast at that stage.”

There appear to be few records of feral cats attacking albatrosses (and in this case the cat may have come across a corpse rather than acted as a predator).  A feral cat was seen feeding on the corpse of a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross Phoebastria palpebrata chick on (now cat-free) Marion Island in 1981.  Cats have been thought to have killed a number of Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis chicks on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in 2015 (click here), although definite evidence of predation appears to be lacking.  A more exhaustive literature search may turn up more records from localities where albatrosses and feral cats co-exist – or once did.

Field work continues on Auckland Island towards the eradication of its cats, as well as of feral pigs Sus scrofa and House Mice Mus musculus (click here).  The most recent field team had photographed and videoed the cat feeding on the albatross.  Maukahuka Pest Free Auckland Island Project Manager Steve Horn reports that the team tested potential cat baits, with three of the four meat baits tested proving appealing to cats.  The winter team's monitoring also found that mouse numbers on the island had exploded after tussock seeding last summer, which appeared to have also caused an increase in the numbers of young cats.  The field team put GPS collars on 11 cats, adding to the 20 animals already being tracked from last summer.  The tracking has revealed cats range up to 70 square kilometres in search of food and move to steep coastal areas when seabirds, including the White-capped Albatross, have their young.

With “Eradicating Island Pests” as the chosen theme for next year’s inaugural World Albatross Day, ACAP Latest News will continue to post on the fortunes of the Maukahuka - Pest free Auckland Island project.  A report on the feasibility of the project is due to be considered by the Department of Conservation's Island Eradication Advisory Group in the coming weeks.

With thanks to Keith Broome, Finlay Cox and Stephen Horn.

Reference:

Berruti, A. 1981. The status of the Royal Penguin and Fairy Prion at Marion Island, with notes on feral cat predation on nestlings of large birds. Marine Ornithology 9: 123-128.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 07 October 2019

Manx Shearwater groundings in Scotland influenced by moon and wind

Martyna Syposz (Department of Biology, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Ibis on the reasons for the grounding of fledgling Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus.

The paper’s abstract follows:

Grounding of thousands of newly fledged petrels and shearwaters (family Procellariidae) in built‐up areas due to artificial light is a global problem.  Due to their anatomy these grounded birds find it difficult to take off from built‐up areas and many fall victim to predation, cars, dehydration or starvation.  This research investigated a combination of several factors that may influence the number of Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus groundings in a coastal village of Scotland located close to a nesting site for this species. A model was developed that used meteorological variables and moon cycle to predict the daily quantity of birds that were recovered on the ground.  The model, explaining 46.32% of the variance of the data, revealed how new moon and strong onshore winds influence grounding.  To a lesser extent, visibility conditions can also have an effect on grounding probabilities.  The analysis presented in this study can improve rescue campaigns of not only Manx Shearwaters but also other species attracted to the light pollution by predicting conditions leading to an increase in the number of groundings.  It could also inform local authorities when artificial light intensity needs to be reduced.”

Manx Shearwater at sea, photograph by Nathan Fletcher

Reference:

Syposz, M., Gonçalves, F., Carty, M., Hoppitt, W. & Manco, F. 2018.  Factors influencing Manx Shearwater grounding on the west coast of Scotland.  Ibis 160: 846-854.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 06 October 2019

Genetic study confirms two White-chinned Petrel subspecies

Kalinka Rexer-Huber (Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand) and colleagues have published in the journal Molecular Ecology on genetic structure of the ACAP-listed and globally Vulnerable White‐chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The Southern Ocean represents a continuous stretch of circumpolar marine habitat, but the potential physical and ecological drivers of evolutionary genetic differentiation across this vast ecosystem remain unclear. We tested for genetic structure across the full circumpolar range of the white‐chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) to unravel the potential drivers of population differentiation and test alternative population differentiation hypotheses. Following range‐wide comprehensive sampling, we applied genomic (genotyping‐by‐sequencing or GBS; 60,709 loci) and standard mitochondrial‐marker approaches (cytochrome b and 1st domain of control region) to quantify genetic diversity within and among island populations, test for isolation by distance, and quantify the number of genetic clusters using neutral and outlier (non‐neutral) loci. Our results supported the multi‐region hypothesis, with a range of analyses showing clear three‐region genetic population structure, split by ocean basin, within two evolutionary units. The most significant differentiation between these regions confirmed previous work distinguishing New Zealand and nominate subspecies. Although there was little evidence of structure within the island groups of the Indian or Atlantic oceans, a small set of highly‐discriminatory outlier loci could assign petrels to ocean basin and potentially to island group, though the latter needs further verification. Genomic data hold the key to revealing substantial regional genetic structure within wide‐ranging circumpolar species previously assumed to be panmictic.”Kalinka Rexer-Huber holds a White-chinned Petrel on New Zealand's Adams Island in the Auckland Island Group, photograph by Graham Parker

Read the abstract of Kalinka's PhD on White-chinned Petrels here.

Reference:

Rexer‐Huber, K., Veale, A.J., Catry, P., Cherel, Y., Dutoit, L., Foster, Y., McEwan, J.C., Parker, G.C., Phillips, R.S., Ryan, P.G., Stanworth, A.J., van Stijn, T., Thompson, D.R., Waters, J. & Robertson, B.C. 2019.  Genomics detects population structure within and between ocean basins in a circumpolar seabird: the white‐chinned petrel.  Molecular Ecology doi:10.1111/mec.15248.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 05 October 2019

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