Featuring ACAP-listed species and their photographers: the Light-mantled Albatross by Jaimie Cleeland

 Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross 15
On ‘Macca’ Light-mantled Albatrosses breed among sub-Antarctic megaherbs, here the broad-leafed
Macquarie Island Cabbage Stilbocarpa polaris

NOTE:  This post continues an occasional series that features photographs of the 31 ACAP-listed species, along with information from and about their photographers.  Here, Jaimie Cleeland, a Fisheries Scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division and the University of Tasmania, describes her research conducted on the globally Near Threatened Light-mantled Albatrosses Phoebetria palpebrata that breed on Australia’s sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.

Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross
Jaimie Cleeland approaches Light-mantled Albatrosses breeding on the steep slopes of Macquarie Island; all such visits are conducted under a research permit

If you’re ever lucky enough to visit one of the many sub-Antarctic islands that Light-mantled Albatrosses breed on – you will mostly likely hear them before you see them!  Their Sky Point display, coupled with a distinctive – and evocative - “pee-aahh” call, is what first caught my attention and drew my eyes to the steep escarpments of Macquarie Island.  It is on these exposed cliffs that the Light-mantled Albatrosses breed – making it challenging for field biologists, such as myself, to access their nests to check their breeding status or read the number of a leg band.  Although it doesn’t usually take very long – perhaps just a few visits to the monitoring colony before you achieve “mountain goat” abilities and become comfortable working safely at heights. It is then your attention can turn to their aerial acrobatics as pairs whizz by in synchronized flight – a display of courtship.

Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross 9
The light blue sulcus on the lower mandible distinguishes the Light-mantled from the Sooty Albatross with its yellow sulcus

During the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP), I regularly visited several of the island’s research monitoring sites to conduct breeding surveys of Light-mantled Albatrosses from 2011 to 2014 (click here).  In 2013, with the help of a dedicated team of rabbit and rodent hunters, we scoured the whole island, finding 2151 occupied nests.  A ground search of this magnitude, conducted over steep terrain, was a huge achievement for our team.

Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross 8
A Light-mantled Albatross chick sits up to eye the photographer

Light-mantled Albatrosses then became a subject of my PhD thesis at the University of Tasmania.  Even though I was no longer living on “Macca”, as the island is affectionally called by its human visitors, I spent my days trying to understand their patterns in foraging behaviour and their vulnerability to invasive species, climate change and fisheries impacts.  I found that during breeding, Light-mantled Albatrosses foraged farther south than any of the other albatrosses that breed on Macquarie and during the non-breeding period some tracked individuals even circumnavigated the whole of Antarctica.

Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross 13
Light-mantled Albatrosses gather to meet and greet

Like all albatrosses, Light-mantled Albatrosses spend the majority of their life at sea.  For the birds breeding on Macquarie I found large-scale climate cycles such as the El Nino – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Southern Annular Mode influenced their survival.  Despite their predominantly oceanic life.  I also found conditions at the colony can impact this species. Damage to nesting habitat on the steep slopes of Macquarie Island caused by heavy rabbit grazing reduced their likelihood of breeding.

Jaimie Cleeland Light mantled Albatross 7
A Light-mantled Albatross fly by

Luckily the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project was successful in removing rabbits, rats and mice from the island and the slopes that the Light-mantled Albatross call home are lush and green once more!

Selected Publications:

Beal, M., Dias, M.P., Phillips, R.A., Oppel, S., Hazin, C., Pearmain, E.J., Adams, J. , Anderson, D.J., Antolos, M., Arata, J.A., Arcos, J.M., Arnould, J.P., Awkerman, J., Bell, E., Bell, M. Carey, M., Carle, R., Clay, T.A., Cleeland, J., Colodro, V., Conners, M. Cruz-Flores, M., Cuthbert, R., Delord, K., Deppe, L., Dilley, B.J., Dinis, H., Elliott, G., De Felipe, F., J. Felis, M.G. Forero, A. Freeman, A. Fukuda, J. González-Solís, J.P. Granadeiro, A. Hedd, P. Hodum, J. M. Igual, A. Jaeger, T.J. Landers, M. Le Corre, A. Makhado, B. Metzger, T. Militão, W.A. Montevecchi, V. Morera-Pujol, L. Navarro-Herrero, D. Nel, D. Nicholls, D. Oro, R. Ouni, K. Ozaki, F. Quintana, R. Ramos, T. Reid, J.M. Reyes-González, C. Robertson, G. Robertson, M.S. Romdhane, P.G. Ryan, P. Sagar, F. Sato, S. Schoombie, R.P. Scofield, S.A. Shaffer, N.J. Shah, K.L. Stevens, C. Surman, R.M. Suryan, A. Takahashi, V. Tatayah, G. Taylor, D.R. Thompson, L. Torres, K. Walker, R. Wanless, S.M. Waugh, H. Weimerskirch, T. Yamamoto, Z. Zajkova, L. Zango & P. Catry 2021.  Global political responsibility for the conservation of albatrosses and large petrels.  Science Advances (10).  DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd7225. [click here].

Carneiro, A.P.B., Pearmain, E.J., Oppel, S., Clay, T.A., Phillips, R.A., Bonnet-Lebrun, A.-S., Wanless, R.M., Abraham, E., Richard, Y., Rice, J., Handley, J., Davies, T.E., Dilley, B.J., Ryan, P.G., Small, C., Arata, J., Arnould, J.P.Y., Bell, E., Bugoni, L., Campioni, L., Catry, P., Cleeland, J., Deppe, L., Elliott, G., Freeman, A., González-Solís, J., Granadeiro, J.P. Grémillet, D., Landers, T.J., Makhado, A., Nel, D., Nicholls, D.G., Rexer-Huber, K., Robertson, C.J.R., Sagar, P.M., Scofield, P., Stahl, J.-C., Stanworth, A., Stevens, K.L., Trathan, P.N., Thompson, D.R., Torres, L., Walker, K., Waugh, S.M., Weimerskirch, H. & Dias, M.P. 2020.  A framework for mapping the distribution of seabirds by integrating tracking, demography and phenology.  Journal of Applied Ecology  doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13568.  [click here]

Cleeland, J. 2017. Factors that drive demographic change in a community of albatrosses.  PhD thesis.  Hobart: University of Tasmania.  153 pp.  [click here]

Cleeland, J.B., Alderman, R., Bindoff, A., Lea, M.-A., McMahon, C.R., Phillips, R.A., Raymond, B., Sumner, M.D., Terauds, A., Wotherspoon, S.J. & Hindell, M.A. 2019.  Factors influencing the habitat use of sympatric albatrosses from Macquarie Island.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 609: 221-237. [click here]

Cleeland, J.B., Pardo, D., Raymond, B., Terauds, A., Alderman, R., McMahon, C.R., Phillips, R.A., Lea, M.-A. & Hindell, M.A. 2020.  Introduced species and extreme weather as key drivers of reproductive output in three sympatric albatrosses.  Scientific Reports: 10: 8199. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64662-5.  [click here]

Cleeland, J.B., Pardo, D., Raymond, B., Tuck, G.N., McMahon, C.R., Phillips, R.A., Alderman, R., Lea, M.-A. & Hindell, M.A. 2021.  Disentangling the influence of three major threats on the demography of an albatross community.  Frontiers in Marine Science doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.578144.  [click here]

Jones, C.W., Risi, M.M., Cleeland, J. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  First evidence of mouse attacks on adult albatrosses and petrels breeding on sub-Antarctic Marion and Gough Islands.  Polar Biology  doi.org/10.1007/s00300-018-02444-6.  [click here].

Requena, S., Oppel, S., Bond, A.L., Hall, A., Cleeland, J., Crawford, R.J.M., Davies, D., Dilley, B.J., Makhado, A., Ratcliffe, N., Reid, T.A., Ronconi, R.A., Schofield, A., Steinfurth, A., Wege, M., Bester, M.[N.] & Ryan, P.G. 2020.  Marine hotspots of activity inform protection of a threatened community of pelagic species in a large oceanic jurisdiction.  Animal Conservation  doi.org/10.1111/acv.12572.  [click here]

Jaimie Cleeland, Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston and University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia, 15 October 2021

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

About ACAP

ACAP Secretariat

119 Macquarie St
Hobart TAS 7000

Tel: +61 3 6165 6674