Saving the best for last: Wandering albatrosses'€™ last push for successful parenting

March 13, 2013, British Antarctic Survey
Wandering albatross and chick.

Romanticised in poetry, the wandering albatross is famed for its enormous wing-span and long life. The bird can often live to 50 years and beyond.

But now a group of scientists from the University of Edinburgh and (BAS) have identified another feature. The birds, which often mate for life, are more likely to successfully raise a chick when they breed for the last time.

The team used data collected from BAS's research station at off South Georgia over a thirty year period. Chicks there have been ringed since 1972 so most of the population is of known age.

The wandering albatross has a low reproductive rate. A single egg is laid on each breeding attempt.

The birds' ability to provide for their young declines after around fourteen years of age, most likely because older albatrosses become less capable of finding food for their young.

However the researchers found that the albatrosses' capacity to raise chicks improves again when they have their final chick.

Wandering albatross and chick.

This could be because they increase the effort they put into rearing just before they die – by adjusting that effort to compensate for their declining physiological status.

Hannah Froy of the Institute of at the University of Edinburgh said: "This improvement in breeding success at the end of life is indicative of what we call 'terminal investment', which is rarely documented in vertebrates. By increasing the investment in the last chick, individuals may be able to capitalise on one final opportunity to pass on their genes before they die."

Dr. Richard Phillips, of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, said: "These exciting new results emphasise the value of long-term monitoring of . Individual-based studies of these very long-lived birds not only provide valuable data for conservation, but also opportunities to test theories of ageing in ."

The study is published in Ecology Letters.

Explore further: Antarctic albatross displays shift in breeding habits

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Cells lacking nuclei struggle to move in 3-D environments

January 20, 2018

University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have revealed new details of how the physical properties of the nucleus influence how cells can move around different environments - such as ...

Microbial communities demonstrate high turnover

January 19, 2018

When Mark Twain famously said "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes," he probably didn't anticipate MIT researchers would apply his remark to their microbial research. But a new study does ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

marble89
not rated yet Mar 13, 2013
The article states that they often mate for life. It would be interesting to know how long she has had the same mate that fathered her recent chicks.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.