Six Main Threats are Driving the Decline of a Remarkable Seabird Family

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Seabirds are top predators, making them crucial indicators of the health of a marine ecosystem. And, they are sending us an alarming message–seabird populations have declined faster than other bird taxa over recent decades. Shearwaters and petrels are one of the most endangered groups of seabirds. These remarkable species are characterized by long ocean journeys for migration and feeding, and a dependence on islands to safely breed and raise young. This dual lifestyle places them at risk from many human-generated pressures.

These pressures on land and at sea have led to a poor conservation status for many of the 124 species of petrels with 52 (42%) threatened species and 65 (52%) suffering population declines. In our review in Frontiers in Marine Science,  38 petrel researchers from 34 institutions and 10 countries reviewed the future directions in conservation and research on petrels and shearwaters.

The study looked at information gaps that must be filled to improve the conservation and management of petrels. The researchers found crucial knowledge gaps on basic information required for their conservation, such as the location of breeding or wintering areas, or their migratory routes.We found that six main threats are the drivers behind global seabird declines.

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Threats to petrels sorted by the number of species affected according to BirdLife International (2018)

“These seabirds are highly adapted marine animals as they are found across all the world’s oceans. But they must return to land to breed, usually on isolated and inaccessible islands. This isolation alone has not been enough to protect them from the global threats that are deteriorating the state of health of the seas” says Dr Andre Chiaradia, another leading author in this study from the Phillip Island Nature Parks, home of 1.4 million of short-tailed shearwaters.

The researchers believe that improving conservation status is possible if we can reverse some of the main six threats. “Some of these measures are the elimination, control and prevention of invasive species, restoration of breeding habitats, improvement of policies and regulations at the global and regional level, and the participation of local communities in conservation efforts such as seabird rescue campaigns” adds Dr Rodriguez, the lead author on the study.

“These results provide hope for these two globally important seabird groups. Knowing the primary threats allows us to take action to prevent further decline and save these species from disappearing forever. Invasive species like feral cats and rats are a key threat at breeding colonies. By removing invasive species like feral cats and rats from seabird islands, we can ensure safe breeding habitat and the opportunity for these remarkable species to once again thrive,” said Dr. Nick Holmes, a co-author on the paper and Director of Science at Island Conservation.

The clear message that emerges from this review is the continued need for research and monitoring to inform and motivate effective conservation for seabirds at the global level.

 

 

[citation] Rodríguez A, Arcos JM, Bretagnolle V, Dias MP, Holmes ND, Louzao M, Provencher J, Raine AF, Ramírez F, Rodríguez B, Ronconi RA, Taylor RS, Bonnaud E, Borrelle SB, Cortés V, Descamps S, Friesen VL, Genovart M, Hedd A, Hodum P, Humphries GRW, Le Corre M, Lebarbenchon C, Martin R, Melvin EF, Montevecchi WA, Pinet P, Pollet IL, Ramos R, Russell JC, Ryan PG, Sanz-Aguilar A, Spatz DR, Travers M, Votier SC, Wanless RM, Woehler E and Chiaradia A (2019) Future Directions in Conservation Research on Petrels and Shearwaters. Front. Mar. Sci. 6:94. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00094

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