A Galapagos seabird's population expected to shrink with ocean warming

August 25, 2017
Credit: Wake Forest University

Within the next century, rising ocean temperatures around the Galápagos Islands are expected to make the water too warm for a key prey species, sardines, to tolerate. A new study by Wake Forest University biologists, published in PLOS ONE Aug. 23, uses decades of data on the diet and breeding of a tropical seabird, the Nazca booby, to understand how the future absence of sardines may affect the booby population.

Researchers have studied diet, breeding and survival of Nazca boobies as part of a long-term study at Isla Española in the Galápagos Islands for more than 30 years. In 1997, midway through the study, disappeared from Nazca booby diet samples and were replaced by the less-nutritious flying fish.

As flying fish replaced sardines in the birds' diet, "reproductive success was halved," said Emily Tompkins, a Ph.D. student at Wake Forest and lead author of the study. "If the current links between and reproduction persist in the future, and rising exclude sardines from the Galápagos, we forecast the Nazca booby population will decline," Tompkins said.

David Anderson, Wake Forest professor of biology and co-author of the study, said: "Few connections have been made between warming and population effects in the tropics, making this study significant."

The study increases understanding of one species' response to climate change in tropical oceans, but also suggests that other Galapagos predators that do well when sardines are available must adjust to a new menu within the next 100 years.

Explore further: Lack of breeding threatens blue-footed boobies' survival

More information: Emily M. Tompkins et al, Decadal-scale variation in diet forecasts persistently poor breeding under ocean warming in a tropical seabird, PLOS ONE (2017). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182545

Related Stories

Lack of breeding threatens blue-footed boobies' survival

April 21, 2014

Blue-footed Boobies are on the decline in the Galápagos. A new study appearing in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology indicates numbers of the iconic birds, known for their bright blue feet and propensity to burst ...

Iconic Galapagos bird suffering population decline

April 30, 2014

One of the iconic birds of the Galapagos Islands, the blue-footed booby, has suffered a sharp population decline, authorities in the Ecuadoran archipelago said Wednesday, blaming overfishing.

Warmer ocean brings fewer sardines to S.Africa

June 22, 2009

Millions of sardines have begun their annual migration down South Africa's east coast, but fewer fish are making the journey due to rising ocean temperatures, a researcher said Monday.

Galapagos cormorant threatened by climate change

November 25, 2013

The effects of climate change in the Galápagos Islands are posing a severe threat to one of the world's rarest seabirds, a decade-long historical study led by a University of Queensland researcher has revealed.

Recommended for you

Gene editing in the brain gets a major upgrade

October 19, 2017

Genome editing technologies have revolutionized biomedical science, providing a fast and easy way to modify genes. However, the technique allowing scientists to carryout the most precise edits, doesn't work in cells that ...

0 comments

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.