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Planet Earth Under Threat

Stormies Rock - Yeah Baby!

  • Julian Hector
  • 25 Oct 06, 11:36 AM

stormpetrel1.jpg

If you want to know what is the most mind blowing little angel that dances across the open ocean is - it's the diminutive giga bird, the Storm Petrel. These belong to the seabird group Procellarformes, who are the tube noses (nostrils on their beak). The storm petrel is the smallest seabird in the world and the wandering albatross (in this group) is the largest flying seabird in the world. The Storm Petrels are rocking science and they are showing some grit living with climate change and oceanic warming.

We're interviewing Rob Thomas of Cardiff University about his work with Storm Petrels. His groups work seems to show that these amazing little seabirds can make decisions about their immediate future based on food availability.

In a past blog I have written rather depressingly about a future with 50% less biodiversity. It was those creatures and plants, I said, that were large and existed in small populations (small populations and large size go together in ecology) that were very vulnerbale to extinction thanks to mankinds activities. Those living things that are very small, breed rapidly and exist in vast populations seem to be showing signs of selecting individuals who can survive in our changing climate. Mosquito's, fruit flies come to mind. The quote from a US scientist was "..the things we like wont make it" - Ploar bears, oak trees.

Storm Petrels are tiny seabirds - they can sit on your hand. Yet they behave like big creatures. They are big creatures. They are long lived (I think upward of 30 years), pair for life (a few break the rule), rear only one baby a year and both share in all parental duties (incubation, feeding the chick). There are a few species globally, but Rob Thomas is working on the Storm Petrel (the Common)that lives around Britain and he studies them on their pelagic migration.

Their work is showing that climate change is effecting the way they feed. When they arrive off Portugal - an important pre-breeding fuelling zone - if their preferred food (marine plankton) is in short supply they actually stay there longer and get even fatter than if the food was abundant. Rob tells us they are planning ahead - if you like getting the message that food might be tough that year so don't press on to the breeding grounds until you're super fat.

This is important because these seabirds have evolved in a changing and turbulent environment. The sea has always been a changing place and the Petrels life history (long life, monogamy, parental sharing, small number of chicks) is all part of riding out the storm and living long enough to enjoy a better year.

Can the Storm Petrels - a creature we love - cope with climate change. Are they pre-adapted enough to have enough plasticity in their behaviour to live with the changes we are imposing on the sea.

Perhaps yes to climate change but no to over exploitation of marine resources. But experts in both fields believe the pace of change is the killer.

Have a look at the Earthwatch Storm Petrel Blog.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 07:42 PM on 25 Oct 2006,
  • nick goacher wrote:

This is a really useful article which is both interesting to read and also shows how wildlife is coping with the changingclimate.I hope that more scientists will find the time and funding in future to undertake similar studies on wildlife issues which affect us all.

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I have often thought that birds in general are a lot more intelligent than we seem to think, as well as undoubtedly having emotional feelings. Certainly this has been demonstrated countless times in our 18 years or so of supporting various species in our garden - come - bird sanctuary.
The crux of the issue, as Julian points out, is surely the pace of change. We hardly have time to understand it ourselves, let alone expect that natural evolution will keep pace. However, SOME sort of natural evolution will of course take place - whether this means losing species we love and the proliferation of some we don't, or some other balance. Perhaps the birds are smarter than us? Perhaps they will find answers we didn't expect? Perhaps we can learn something more from them? If so, we had better do so quickly - some of them are already disappearing...
JA

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  • 3.
  • At 09:30 AM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • julian Hector wrote:

THis is a terrific blog of Jonathan Freedland who is dealing with so many of the economic institutions of change. I'll write something so we can interface with his blog. The comments are great.http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1930689,00.html

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  • 4.
  • At 03:10 PM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Mike Bennett wrote:

Hi I contributed to the blog mentioned in the above comment and yes it was very paradigm questioning.

Looking at this site, it's a list of various wild-life crises under, of course, the general heading of Planet under Threat. But you never say who it's under threat from.

On the blog mentioned above, we were generally agreeing with Jonathan Frredland main point - that it's big business and the system they impose on the world that is causing the problems.

And unless they change, nothing is really going to change.

So I think that it would be great if your blog looked at the wildlife disasters caused by companies - and named those companies. The BBC is unique in its ability to do that - most newspapers won't go very far to protect their advertising revenue.

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  • 5.
  • At 03:11 PM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Mike Bennett wrote:

Hi I contributed to the blog mentioned in the above comment and yes it was very paradigm questioning.

Looking at this site, it's a list of various wild-life crises under, of course, the general heading of Planet under Threat. But you never say who it's under threat from.

On the blog mentioned above, we were generally agreeing with Jonathan Freedland's main point - that it's big business and the system they impose on the world that is causing the problems.

And unless they change, nothing is really going to change.

So I think that it would be great if your blog looked at the wildlife disasters caused by companies - and named those companies. The BBC is unique in its ability to do that - most newspapers won't go very far to protect their advertising revenue.

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  • 6.
  • At 05:24 PM on 30 Oct 2006,
  • Ralph wrote:

This isn't really a comment - but I would like to know when the Radio 4 series to go with this blog will be broadcast (or have I missed it somehow)?

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  • 7.
  • At 12:00 PM on 03 Nov 2006,
  • julian Hector wrote:

Fist Episode 20th November on BBC Radio 4 at 21.00 GMT

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