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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note: Winds of Change

Air Date: Week of March 9, 2012

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Wandering Albatross. (NOAA Photo Library)

For many species around the world climate change has meant a turn for the worse. But for the wandering albatross it’s been a boon. Living on Earth’s Sophie Golden reports.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman. Just ahead, feasting on urban forests, but first, this Note on Emerging Science from Sophie Golden.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

GOLDEN: For many species around the world climate change has meant a turn for the worse, but for the wandering albatross it’s been a boon, at least, for now.

Researchers have been studying the breeding habits of a colony of wandering albatross in the Crozet Islands for over 40 years. Now scientists at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany are looking at the effects of climate change on the species.

The Crozet Islands are in one of windiest places in the Southern Ocean. And the changing climate has boosted the power of the westerly winds and shifted them south. And the albatross have followed. The stronger winds allow the birds to fly faster, covering ocean in less time. And shorter trips mean more time at home with the kids.

Both male and female albatross split time between foraging for food and nesting. Shorter shifts on the nest lead to fewer breeding failures, and an increase in population. And population is not the only thing that has increased. The average weight of both the male and female albatross has gone up by over two pounds in the last 20 years. Researchers believe this could be due to less time spent on the nest, or an evolutionary response to the windier conditions.

As quickly as the albatross can adapt, the winds can change, and they might bring new problems in the next gust. But for now the albatross can enjoy the benefits of a changing planet. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Sophie Golden.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

 

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