Where Will the Seabirds Go? How Seabird Poop Transformed an Entire Ecosystem and Raises Questions About Their Survival

Black-Browed Albatross Rookery

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A rookery of black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) nest at a windy, exposed tussac meadow on West Point Island, Falkland Islands. Credit: Dulcinea Groff

Seabird poop changed a whole environment, exposes an assessment of a 14,000-year peat record in the Falkland Islands, raising concerns about the birds’ survival and the prospective effect of environment modification on delicate terrestrial-marine environments.

Seabirds got here on the remote cluster of islands in the South Atlantic called the Falkland Islands 5,000 years back. Their arrival took place at the very same time as the area cooled.


Probably not, according to specialists like Dulcinea Groff, whose research study interests consist of paleoecology, paleoclimate, preservation and ecological modification. Instead, their arrival recommends that the Falkland Islands were a cold-climate haven for seabirds. Today, a warming Southern Ocean brings into question the long-lasting practicality of the Falkland Islands as an environment for seabirds whom Groff calls the “canaries in the coalmine of the ocean and land where they nest” due to the fact that of their level of sensitivity to environment modification.

Southern Rockhopper Penguin Rookery

A rookery Southern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome) nest in between a rocky slope and a tussac meadow and generate nutrients from the ocean straight to the lawns at the Kidney Island National Nature Reserve, Falkland Islands. Credit: Dulcinea Groff

Groff and her associates set out to find how seabirds reacted to environment modification countless years back due to the fact that the previous supplies a window into how seabirds may react to an altering environment in the future. The group’s assessment of a 14,000-year record, originated from peat — a natural archive of details about previous environments — exposes that a community shift took place following seabird facility 5,000 years back, as marine-derived nutrients from guano (built up bird excrement) assisted in the facility of tussac (a kind of lawn), peat efficiency, and increased fire.

The outcomes of the research study have actually been released today (October 23, 2020) in Science Advances in a short article called, “Seabird establishment during regional cooling drove a terrestrial ecosystem shift 5000 years ago.”

Sooty Shearwaters at Dusk

At sunset countless seabirds called sooty shearwaters (Ardena grisea) go back to their deep nesting burrows went into the peat of the tussac meadow at the Kidney Island National Nature Reserve, Falkland Islands. Credit: Dulcinea Groff

“Our 14,000-year record raises a very troubling question about where seabirds will go as the climate continues to warm because the seabirds at Surf Bay established when the climate was cooler,” states Groff, who is presently a Research Fellow in Lehigh’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. This work belonged to her argumentation at the University of Maine. “A couple centuries of introduced livestock grazing has severely damaged tussac grasslands, which are critical wildlife habitat. We learned just how important the nutrients in seabird poop are for the ongoing efforts to restore and conserve their grassland habitat.”

Scientists have the ability to find out about the past by evaluating peat due to the fact that it protects the remains of plants and animals as it collects or develops over countless years. Groff and her associates analyzed pollen made by the plants, charcoal left over from meadow fires, and chemical indications related to seabirds existing, all originated from peat samples. The peat profile enabled them to identify the order of occasions with the seabirds and their breeding environment: the tussac meadows.

“Our study is unique because it documents a direct linkage across ocean and land ecosystems between top predators of the oceans -the seabirds- and island plant communities,” states Groff. “The abrupt ecosystem shift happened within a matter of a few decades and suggests that as the climate continues to warm, it’s critical to think about where seabirds will go in the future and plan to protect those places. This is also relevant toward efforts to restore the tussac grasslands because as the climate warms, seabirds may find and occupy more suitable environments elsewhere, and we should expect that the coastal grasslands will respond to the loss in nutrients from seabird guano.”

Reference: “Seabird establishment during regional cooling drove a terrestrial ecosystem shift 5000 years ago” by Dulcinea V. Groff, Kit M. Hamley, Trevor J. R. Lessard, Kayla E. Greenawalt, Moriaki Yasuhara, Paul Brickle and Jacquelyn L. Gill,
23 October 2020, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb2788

This work was moneyed in part by the NSF IGERT program called ‘Adaptation to Abrupt Climate Change’, trainee research study grants from the LacCore Visiting Student Research Grant, Geologic Society of America Student Research Grant, the Dan and Betty Churchill Fund, University of Maine Graduate Student Government, and over 180 donors to the group’s crowdfunding effort from 2014.

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