Impacts of wind variability on albatross energetics and life history

Climate change is having widespread and dramatic effects on global patterns of wind and ocean currents that are predicted to amplify in the future, but the consequences of these changes for animal movement and contingent biological processes have received little attention. Fluid flow has important effects on the cost of transport and life history characteristics in flying and swimming animals, and many exploit global patterns of wind and ocean currents for migrations and foraging movements. An improved understanding of how climate-driven atmospheric and oceanographic variability influences energetic budgets and population-level processes of animals is needed in order to accurately predict future impacts of climate change, particularly for threatened species. Understanding the mechanistic links between climate-driven variability in fluid flow, animal movement, energetics and population processes is a critical, yet often overlooked, component of the biological impacts of climate change.

The objective of this work is to develop a mechanistic model linking climate-driven variability in wind patterns to changes in seabird foraging energetics and life history. As highly mobile seabirds that rely on wind to reach distant foraging areas across vast expanses of ocean, albatrosses represent ideal study species through which to investigate links between fluid flow (wind) and population-level impacts. The central hypothesis of this work is that climate-driven changes in wind speed and direction influence life history characteristics of black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses breeding at South Georgia (central place foragers) by mediating the cost of transport to distant foraging grounds. This research uses telemetry data, colony-based metrics and satellite data of environmental variables to assess this hypothesis.

This work is funded by an NSF CAREER award.

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