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Further support for thermal ecosystem engineering by wandering albatross

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 September 2015

Tanya M. Haupt
Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa Current address: Department of Environmental Affairs, Oceans and Coasts Branch, Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research, Private Bag X2, Roggebaai 8012, South Africa
Brent J. Sinclair
Department of Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6A 5B7, Canada
Justine D. Shaw
School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia Terrestrial and Nearshore Ecosystems, Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, TAS 7050, Australia
Steven L. Chown*
School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, VIC 3800, Australia
*corresponding author:


On sub-Antarctic Marion Island, wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) nests support high abundances of tineid moth, Pringleophaga marioni, caterpillars. Previous work proposed that the birds serve as thermal ecosystem engineers by elevating nest temperatures relative to ambient, thereby promoting growth and survival of the caterpillars. However, only 17 days of temperature data were presented previously, despite year-long nest occupation by birds. Previous sampling was also restricted to old and recently failed nests, though nests from which chicks have recently fledged are key to understanding how the engineering effect is realized. Here we build on previous work by providing nest temperature data for a full year and by sampling all three nest types. For the full duration of nest occupancy, temperatures within occupied nests are significantly higher, consistently by c. 7°C, than those in surrounding soils and abandoned nests, declining noticeably when chicks fledge. Caterpillar abundance is significantly higher in new nests compared to nests from which chicks have fledged, which in turn have higher caterpillar abundances than old nests. Combined with recent information on the life history of P. marioni, our data suggest that caterpillars are incidentally added to the nests during nest construction, and subsequently benefit from an engineering effect.

Biological Sciences
© Antarctic Science Ltd 2015 

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