Summer distribution and migration of nonbreeding albatrosses: individual consistencies and implications for conservation
Many birds show a surprising degree of intraspecific variability in migratory tendency and choice of wintering site. In this study, we tracked the seasonal movements of 35 nonbreeding Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophrys from South Georgia, including 24 birds followed in two consecutive years. This revealed consistent patterns of status-related, sex-specific, and individual variation in wintering strategies, and provided the first description of the summer distribution of failed/deferring breeders. Individuals exhibited a striking degree of site fidelity, returning to the same region (southwest Africa or Australia) and showing correlated centers of distribution, as well as remarkable consistency in the chronology of their movements, in consecutive years. Nonetheless, a degree of behavioral flexibility remained, and particularly on the return migration, birds moved between, or bypassed, alternative intermediate staging sites depending on local circumstances. Initiation of the outward migration varied according to breeding status, timing of failure, and sex: deferring breeders and those that failed early departed two months before successful birds, and successful females departed 1–2 weeks earlier than males. Sex-related latitudinal variation in distribution was also apparent, with females wintering farther north within the Benguela system. Moreover, the only migrant to Australia was a male, supporting an apparent tendency for male-biased breeding dispersal inferred from genetic analyses. Distribution and timing of movements appeared in general to relate to avoidance of competition from congeners and conspecifics from other populations. From a conservation perspective, the study indicated that, for the declining Black-browed Albatross population at South Georgia, the primary focus should be toward improving the management (especially reducing bycatch levels) of fisheries in the central and eastern South Atlantic.
Authors: Phillips, Richard A., Silk, Janet R.D., Croxall, John P., Afanasyev, Vsevolod, Bennett, Victoria J.