Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

“We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven”. Effects of age on foraging behaviour of Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses in the South Atlantic

Black browed Albatross Dimas Gianuca Marion Schon
 "The Golden Hour" (pastel on pastel mat, 12" x 16") by Marion Schön for ABUN, from a photograph of a Black-browed Albatross and chick by Dimas Gianuca

Caitlin Frankish (British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Movement Ecology on senescence in two mollymawk albatrosses.

“Background.  Foraging performance is widely hypothesized to play a key role in shaping age-specific demographic rates in wild populations, yet the underlying behavioral changes are poorly understood.  Seabirds are among the longest-lived vertebrates, and demonstrate extensive age-related variation in survival, breeding frequency and success.  The breeding season is a particularly critical phase during the annual cycle, but it remains unclear whether differences in experience or physiological condition related to age interact with the changing degree of the central-place constraint in shaping foraging patterns in time and space.

Methods.  Here we analyze tracking data collected over two decades from congeneric black-browed (BBA) and grey-headed (GHA) albatrosses, Thalassarche melanophris and T. chrysostoma, breeding at South Georgia.  We compare the foraging trip parameters, at-sea activity (flights and landings) and habitat preferences of individuals aged 10–45 years and contrast these patterns between the incubation and early chick-rearing stages.

Results.  Young breeders of both species showed improvements in foraging competency with age, reducing foraging trip duration until age 26.  Thereafter, there were signs of foraging senescence; older adults took gradually longer trips, narrowed their habitat preference (foraging within a smaller range of sea surface temperatures) (GHA), made fewer landings and rested on the water for longer (BBA). Some age-specific effects were apparent for each species only in certain breeding stages, highlighting the complex interaction between intrinsic drivers in determining individual foraging strategies.

Conclusions.  Using cross-sectional data, this study highlighted clear age-related patterns in foraging behavior at the population-level for two species of albatrosses. These trends are likely to have important consequences for the population dynamics of these threatened seabirds, as young or old individuals may be more vulnerable to worsening environmental conditions.”

With thanks to Dimas Gianuca, Kitty Harvill, Richard Phillips and Marion Schön.


Frankish, C.K., Manica, A. & Phillips, R.A. 2020.  Effects of age on foraging behavior in two closely related albatross species.  Movement Ecology

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 February 2020