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OLI Grant: Albatross Demography and Conservation

Grant Funded: 2003


Albatrosses are among the largest, longest-lived, and most fascinating birds on earth. There are 21 species: three in the North Pacific, one in the equatorial Pacific, and the rest in the Southern Ocean. They are quintessentially oceanic, interacting with the oceanic environment on a larger scale than any other species even the large whales.  They are also threatened by human activities (especially long-line fishing, but also pollution, marine debris, and destruction of breeding areas); 20 of the 21 species are classified as threatened or endangered.

Conservation efforts are in critical need of population analyses. Fortunately, there exist several exceptional long-term data sets on albatrosses. We propose to carry out a complete demographic analysis on one of these data sets, collected by the British Antarctic Survey on Bird Island, South Georgia, since the early 1970s. We will use and extend new methods of parameter estimation to measure survival, reproduction, and development for the Wandering Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, and Grey-headed Albatross. From these estimates, we will develop deterministic and stochastic population models to determine the potential for population growth, risks of extinction, relation of population growth to environmental factors, and the effects of changes in survival and reproduction. Finally, we will link our results to new international agreements recently implemented to protect albatrosses and other seabirds.

No analysis of this level of detail and thoroughness has ever been completed for any endangered species. Our results will not only provide critical information for albatross conservation, but will also serve as a model for the study of other threatened populations and provide valuable tools for the study of ecosystem health.

Originally published: February 1, 2003