You go that way, I’ll go this way. How do three albatross species at South Africa’s Marion Island partition resources at sea?

Maëlle Connan (Zoology Department, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa) and colleagues have published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series on diets of three albatross species at Marion Island.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“A combination of dietary techniques that integrate data on food and feeding habits over days, weeks and months was used to investigate resource partitioning among 3 sympatric albatrosses, namely the grey-headed Thalassarche chrysostoma (GHA), light-mantled sooty Phoebetria palpebrata (LMSA) and sooty Phoebetria fusca (SA) albatrosses.  These medium-size albatrosses typically breed every 2 yr, and Marion Island (southern Indian Ocean) is the only breeding site where the 3 species are accessible.  Stomach content analysis provided dietary information about the most recent meal, analysis of fatty acids in stomach oils about the last foraging trip, and carbon and nitrogen stable isotope values of blood and feathers about the chick-rearing (breeding) and moulting periods, respectively.  The combination of techniques highlighted a complex pattern regarding the spatial and trophic segregation between the 3 species.  During both seasons, SA were spatially segregated from LMSA and GHA, foraging farther north (in subantarctic and subtropical areas) than the 2 other species (subantarctic and Antarctic waters).  When feeding for themselves during the breeding season (blood isotopic signatures), adults showed a clear spatial segregation.  When bringing back food for their chicks (stomach contents), trophic segregation became obvious, with the 2 Phoebetria species specializing mostly on squids.  The results illustrate how sympatrically breeding birds can show niche partitioning through both spatial segregation and prey specialization.”

Sooty Albatross chick on Marion Island, photograph by Marienne de Villiers

With thanks to Maëlle Connan for information.


Connan, M., McQuaid, C.D., Bonnevie, B.T., Smale, M.J. & Cherel, Y. 2014.  Combined stomach content, lipid and stable isotope analyses reveal spatial and trophic partitioning among three sympatric albatrosses from the Southern Ocean.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 497: 259-272.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 25 February 2014

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