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Southern Giant Petrels Macronectes giganteus depredating breeding Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses Thalassarche chlororhynchos on Gough Island

Abstract

Giant petrels Macronectes spp. are the largest avian predator-scavengers in the Southern Ocean and feed both by direct predation and by scavenging carrion. However, they are not considered to be predators of adult albatrosses. We report the first records of Southern Giant Petrels M. giganteus attacking and killing incubating Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses Thalassarche chlororhynchos on Gough Island. From 2017 to 2019, a total of 87 adult carcasses were found near nests within long-term monitoring areas. In 2019, 16 motion-activated cameras filmed 32 nests between September and January, during incubation up until chicks were no longer guarded by their parents. Camera footage revealed at least six different male Southern Giant Petrels independently attacking 11 incubating Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, killing and feeding on 5 of those. We also recorded a Southern Giant Petrel attacking a brooding Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and carrying its chick away. Of these camera-monitored nests breeding success was 18.75%, nest failure was due to parent mortality (n = 6), chick mortality (3) and nest abandonment (17), with giant petrels being confirmed or strongly suspected in at least 14 of 26 cases (54%). We observed these attacks in two out of 11 study areas, but it is uncertain whether this behaviour occurs elsewhere on Gough Island, or whether it is a novel hunting method learnt by a few individuals. However, if this behaviour spreads across albatross colonies, the resulting increase in adult mortality could have a significant impact on this endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross population.

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Acknowledgements

Logistical support was provided by the South African Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries, the University of Cape Town and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds through the Gough Island Restoration Programme. The Tristan da Cunha Administrator, Island Council and Conservation Department provided permission for our monitoring work on Gough Island. We would like to thank Dr Michael Brooke and an anonymous reviewer for making suggestions which improved this manuscript.

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Authors

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MR, CJ and AO conceived and designed the research, and conducted the field work. MR viewed all footage, captured and analysed data. MR wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michelle M. Risi.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Ethical approval

Field procedures were approved by the Animal Ethics Committee of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

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Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Online Resource 1: Video of an incubating Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross on Gough Island being attacked by mice captured with a motion-sensor triggered camera in November 2019 (MP4 28781 KB)

Online Resource 3: Video of a Southern Giant Petrel attacking an incubating Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross on Gough Island captured with a motion-sensor triggered camera in November 2019 (MP4 11470 KB)

300_2021_2810_MOESM2_ESM.tiff

Online Resource 2: Southern Giant Petrel carrying an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross chick away from the nest after successfully pushing the brooding adult (bottom right) off the nest (TIFF 6161 KB)

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Risi, M.M., Jones, C.W., Osborne, A.M. et al. Southern Giant Petrels Macronectes giganteus depredating breeding Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses Thalassarche chlororhynchos on Gough Island. Polar Biol 44, 593–599 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-021-02810-x

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Keywords

  • Foraging behaviour
  • Predation
  • Breeding success
  • Camera trap
  • Tristan da Cunha Archipelago
  • Novel foraging tactics