Stormies Rock - Yeah Baby!
- 25 Oct 06, 11:36 AM
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.