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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Burrowing shearwaters and diving petrels as ecosystem engineers on New Zealand islands

Melody Durrett (Institute of Arctic Biology and Department of Biology and Wildlife, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska, USA) and colleagues write in the journal Plant and Soil on how burrowing seabirds (Flesh-footed shearwaters Puffinus carneipes, Fluttering Shearwaters P. gavia, Grey-faced Petrels Pterodroma macroptera gouldi and Common Diving Petrels Pelecanoides urinatrixstructure soil and plant patterns.

The paper’s abstract follows:


This study investigates how burrow-nesting, colonial seabirds structure the spatial patterns of soil and plant properties (including soil and leaf N) and tests whether burrow density drives these spatial patterns within each of six individual islands that vary greatly in burrow density.


Within individual islands, we compared semivariograms (SVs) with and without burrows as a spatial trend.  We also used SVs to describe and compare the spatial patterns among islands for each of 16 soil and plant variables.


Burrow density within a single island was only important in determining spatial structuring in one-fifth of the island-variable combinations tested.  Among islands, some variables (i.e., soil pH, δ15N, and compaction; microbial biomass and activity) achieved peak spatial variance on intermediate-density islands, while others (i.e., net ammonification, net nitrification, NH4 +, NO3 -) became increasingly variable on densely burrowed islands.


Burrow density at the within-island scale was far less important than expected.  Seabirds and other ecosystem engineers whose activities (e.g., nutrient subsidies, soil disturbance) influence multiple spatial scales can increase spatial heterogeneity even at high densities, inconsistent with a “hump-shaped” relationship between resource availability and heterogeneity.

Fluttering Shearwater in its burrow, photograph by Shane Cotter


Durrett, M.S., Wardle, D.A., Mulder, C.P.H. & Barry, R.P. 2014.  Seabirds as agents of spatial heterogeneity on New Zealand’s offshore islands.  Plant and Soil DOI 10.1007/s11104-014-2172-z.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 06 September 2015

Australia decides not to list its Flesh-footed Shearwater populations under its Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

Following the species’ public nomination in 2012, Australia has been considering listing its populations of the Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus creatopus under its Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) (click here).

Following “a rigorous scientific assessment of the species’ threat status” by the Act’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) the decision has now been made not to list the species under the Act.  Therefore a recovery plan for this species will not now be produced.  Click here for the TSSC’s conservation advice.

Flesh-footed Shearwater, photograph by Barry Baker

The EPBC Act provides a legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places.  A national recovery plan in terms of the Act exists for Australia’s breeding and visiting populations of albatrosses and giant petrels Maconectes spp., covering 21 species for the period 2011 to 2016 (click here).

The Flesh-footed Shearwater has been identified as a potential candidate for inclusion within ACAP.  It is listed as of Least Concern globally by BirdLife International.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 05 September, 2014

Expedition leaves Cape Town today to conduct albatross and petrel research on Gough Island in the South Atlantic

Over the last decade every September marine ornithologists have travelled to Gough Island, part of the United Kingdom’s Overseas Territory of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, to conduct research on its threatened populations of albatrosses and petrels.  This year’s expedition sails from Cape Town today on South Africa’s Antarctic research and supply vessel, the m.v. S.A. Agulhas II.

As in previous years, seabird research and monitoring on Gough will concentrate on globally threatened species, including the near-endemic and Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena, the Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos and the Endangered Sooty Albatross Phoebastria fusca.  All three ACAP-listed species face fatal attacks on their chicks by Gough’s “killer” House Mice Mus musculus (click here).  Research will also take place on the two other ACAP-listed species that breed on Gough: the Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus (Least Concern) and the Grey Petrel Procellaria cinerea (Near Threatened).

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, photograph by Peter Ryan

Three field assistants on the expedition will remain on Gough until October 2015, residing in South Africa’s weather station on the island:  Christopher Jones, Werner Kuntz and Michelle Risi.  They will continue monitoring of albatrosses and petrels during their stay, as well as continuing with alien plant control in the vicinity of the weather station.  Two field assistants, Delia Davis and Ben Dilley, who have spent a year on the island will return with the ship next month.

The ornithological component of the expedition is being led by Peter Ryan, Director of the University of Cape Town’s FitzPatrick Institute, with financial and logistic support from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and National Science Foundation via the South African National Antarctic Programme, the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and the Tristan Conservation Department (TCD).

In addition an aerial photographic survey by South African helicopter of Gough’s population of Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses is planned in September by Alex Bond of the RSPB’s new Centre for Conservation Science with financial support from the UK’s Darwin Initiative and ACAP.  This will be the first-ever such survey, also planned for the main island of Tristan da Cunha, filling, if successful, a noticeable gap in the knowledge of the population size of this species, endemic to the Tristan islands (click here and here).  Alex and Trevor Glass, Head of the TCD, will join the expedition once the ship arrives at Tristan on its way to Gough.

Unlike for the last eight years ACAP’s Information Officer will not take part in this year’s expedition to Gough; instead he will be attending ACAP meetings in Uruguay that commence next week in Punta del Este.

Click here for details of the 2013 ornithological expedition to Gough.

With thanks to Peter Ryan for information

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 September 2014

Feather chemical composition in White-chinned Petrels: can it help monitor marine ecosystems?

Alice Carravieri (Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Université de La Rochelle, Villiers-en-Bois, France) and colleagues have published in the Journal Marine Biology on utilizing seabird feathers, including of the ACAP-listed White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis, to assess chemical composition as a way of monitoring marine health.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“One major limitation in the use of body feathers of seabirds as a monitoring tool of the trophic structure and contamination levels of marine ecosystems is the degree of heterogeneity in feather chemical composition within individuals.  Here, we tested the hypothesis that moulting patterns drive body feather heterogeneity, with synchronous moult minimizing within-individual variations, in contrast to asynchronous feather growth.  Chicks of white-chinned petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis (representative of bird chicks) and adults of king penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus (representative of adult penguins) that moult their body feathers synchronously showed very low within-individual variations in their feather δ13C and δ15N values and mercury (Hg) concentrations.  By contrast, body feathers of adults of Antarctic prions Pachyptila desolata (representative of adult seabirds with asynchronous feather growth during a protracted moult) presented much higher within-individual variances for the three parameters.   These findings have three important implications for birds presenting a synchronous body moult.  (1) They suggest that all body feathers from the same individual have identical δ13C and δ15N values and Hg content.  (2) They predict negligible within-individual variations in the body feather values of other useful stable isotopes, such as δ2H and δ34S, as well as in the concentrations of other compounds that are deposited in the keratin structure.  (3) Analysis of one or any number of pooled body feathers is equally representative of the individual.  In conclusion, we recommend that long-term routine monitoring investigations focus on birds presenting synchronous rather than asynchronous moult of body feathers both in marine and terrestrial environments.  This means targeting chicks rather than adults and, for seabirds, penguins rather than adults of flying species.”


White-chinned Petrels, photograph by Ben Phalan


Carravieri, A., Buastamante, P., Churlaud, C., Fromant, A. & Cherel, Y. 2014.  Moulting patterns drive within-individual variations of stable isotopes and mercury in seabird body feathers: implications for monitoring of the marine environment.  Marine Biology 161: 963-968.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 03 September 2014

Lead poisoning appears not to be a threat to Marion Island’s albatrosses and giant petrels

Carly Summers (School of Agricultural, Forest, and Environmental Sciences, Clemson University, South Carolina, USA) and colleagues have looked at lead and cadmium levels in Wandering Diomedea exulans, Light-mantled Sooty Phoebetria palpebrata and Sooty P. fusca Albatrosses and Northern Macronectes halli and Southern M. giganteus Giant Petrels at South Africa’s sub-Antarctic Marion Island, publishing in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Levels of lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) were investigated as potential stressors in nine species of breeding seabirds on Marion Island, South Africa.  The majority of blood Pb levels (95 %) were below background exposure levels.  Species was a significant factor in ranked means analysis for mean blood Pb levels.  Fewer individual blood Cd levels (<60 %) were within background exposure levels and species was not significant.  Elevated levels of Cd have been documented in other seabird species without apparent outward effects, which suggests that seabirds may be adapted to high cadmium environments, particularly from their diets.  Overall, the results suggest Pb and Cd are not primary causes for concern in these seabirds.”

Wandering Albatross and chick on Marion Island, photograph by John Cooper


Summers, C.F., Bowerman, W.W., Parsons, N., Chao, W.Y. & Bridges Jr., W.C. 2014.  Lead and cadmium in the blood of nine species of seabirds, Marion Island, South Africa.  Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology  DOI 10.1007/s00128-014-1359-6.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 02 September 2014