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Unexpected effects of climate change on the predation of Antarctic petrels

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 April 2004

Jan A. Van Franeker
Affiliation:
alterra – Texel, Marine and Coastal Zone Research, PO Box 167, 1790 AD Den Burg (Texel), The Netherlands
Jeroen C.S. Creuwels
Affiliation:
alterra – Texel, Marine and Coastal Zone Research, PO Box 167, 1790 AD Den Burg (Texel), The Netherlands
Willem Van Der Veer
Affiliation:
alterra – Texel, Marine and Coastal Zone Research, PO Box 167, 1790 AD Den Burg (Texel), The Netherlands
Sam Cleland
Affiliation:
Bureau of Meteorology, PO Box 40050, Casuarine, NT 0811, Australia
Graham Robertson
Affiliation:
Australian Antarctic Division, Channel Highway, Kingston, TAS 7050, Australia

Abstract

Antarctic petrels Thalassoica antarctica on Ardery Island, Antarctica (66°S, 110°E), experienced major reductions in breeding success and breeder survival over four seasons between 1984/85 and 1996/97. In 1996 the reason was revealed. A large snowdrift covered part of the study colony on the cliffs. Southern giant petrels Macronectes giganteus, normally lacking access to this area, exploited the snow for soft ‘crash landings”. After landing they waited for the disturbed birds to resettle on their nests and then used surprise to seize and kill a victim. Predation continued into the egg period, and only stopped after the snowdrift had melted. Giant petrels showed no interest in the eggs but, during the panic caused by their activities, South Polar skuas Catharacta maccormicki took the deserted eggs. Antarctic petrel mortality due to predation within the 1996/97 season amounted to 15.4% of experienced breeders, and breeding success was reduced to virtually zero. Weather data from the nearby Casey station over the 1980–96 period showed that a significant increase in precipitation has occurred, in combination with shifts in speed and direction of winds. We conclude that the decreases in breeding success and survival in earlier seasons were also related to increased snowfall and predation. Although similar predation behaviour by giant petrels has not been reported before, we think that it is long established and explains why nesting of the smaller fulmarine petrels is limited to steeper cliffs or sheltered sites. The complexity of the response seems unlikely to be predicted by our present understanding of how climate change affects ecosystems.

Type
Papers—Life Sciences and Oceanography
Copyright
© Antarctic Science Ltd 2001

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