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Female Seabirds at Risk during Stormy Weather

Aug 18, 2015 04:56 PM EDT

Common female U.K. coastal seabirds may be slowed down by strong winds in their regular searches for food. As more buffeting winds are forecast as part of climate change, that is not a good sign for seabirds, as researchers recently noted.   

That is, researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Center for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and British Antarctic Survey who have studied these seabirds have found that when winds are strong, females take much longer than males to find food. As a result, researchers fear that if such weather conditions worsen, population sizes could be affected.  In many seabird species, females are smaller and lighter than males, so they must work harder to dive through turbulent water. They have also noted that female seabirds may not be able to hold their breath for as long, fly as efficiently, nor dive as deeply as males. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Animal Ecology 

This research was conducted as part of a long-term CEH study on the island that began in the 1970s, and was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. 

"In our study, females had to work harder than males to find food, and difficult conditions exacerbated this difference. Forecasted increases in wind speeds could have a greater impact on females, with potential knock-on effects on the well-being of populations," Dr. Sue Lewis, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, said in a statement. Dr. Lewis led the study.

"Most of the research on climate change has focused on the effects of warming, but there is growing concern about increasing wind speeds and frequency of storms. This study shows one way in which wind could affect wild populations, and may be widespread since many species have sex differences in body size," noted Dr. Francis Daunt, of CEH. 

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