Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

Evidence for long-term effects of pollutants on Wandering Albatrosses

Aurélie Goutte (Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Villiers-en-Bois, France) and colleagues have published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences on pollutants affecting Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans.

“Seabirds are top predators of the marine environment that accumulate contaminants over a long life-span. Chronic exposure to pollutants is thought to compromise survival rate and long-term reproductive outputs in these long-lived organisms, thus inducing population decline.  However, the demographic consequences of contaminant exposure are largely theoretical because of the dearth of long-term datasets.  This study aims to test whether adult survival rate, return to the colony and long-term breeding performance were related to blood mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs), by using a capture–mark–recapture dataset on the vulnerable wandering albatross Diomedea exulans.  We did not find evidence for any effect of contaminants on adult survival probability.  However, blood Hg and POPs negatively impacted long-term breeding probability, hatching and fledging probabilities.  The proximate mechanisms underlying these deleterious effects are likely multifaceted, through physiological perturbations and interactions with reproductive costs.  Using matrix population models, we projected a demographic decline in response to an increase in Hg or POPs concentrations.  This decline in population growth rate could be exacerbated by other anthropogenic perturbations, such as climate change, disease and fishery bycatch.  This study gives a new dimension to the overall picture of environmental threats to wildlife populations.”

Wandering Albatross and chick, photograph by John Cooper


Goutte, A., Barbraud, C., Meillère, A., Carravieri, A., Bustamante, P., Labadie, P., Budzinski, H., Delord, K., Cherel, Y.,Weimerskirch, H. & Chastel, O. 2014.  Demographic consequences of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants in a vulnerable long-lived bird, the wandering albatross.  Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.3313.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 01 July 2014

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