Science News

Bad News for British Seabirds.

Sun, 22nd Jul 2007

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That’s according to the RSPB who have announced this week that colonies of seabirds, like puffins, kittiwakes and Manx shearwaters are not doing very well at all in their normal breeding grounds on the islands in northern Scotland.  The last few years have seen really bad breeding seasons for many seabirds because it seems that the birds are literally starving and climate change could be to blame.

Seabirds usually feed on sand eels which in turn feed on the tiny microscopic marine algae called Phytoplankton. Over the last few years scientists have measured changes in the distribution of phytoplankton in the oceans which is thought to be a consequence of increasing sea temperatures. And the changes in the plankton are thought to be one reason for declines in populations of sand eels.  And with fewer sand eels to eat, the seabirds are finding it increasingly difficult to find enough food for their young.

There was some hope that a different type of fish, called pipefish, could provide a new source of food for the seabirds, because for some reason they are doing very well and are currently living in great abundance around the shores of the UK.  But unfortunately, the problem is that the pipefish – long thin relatives of seahorses – are not very easy to eat, with tough outer skeletons that seabirds can’t get their beaks around. In fact the birds are trying to use them for whatever they can, even building nests out of them.

We will need to wait until the end of the summer to see the full fate of the British seabirds this year, but it seems that we are sadly hearing news that animals are finding it difficult to deal with climate change.

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