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Climate Change Fuelling 'Divorce' Rates Among Albatross Couples, Finds Study

The probability of divorce was directly affected by the environment. (Photo: Canva)

The probability of divorce was directly affected by the environment. (Photo: Canva)

The study has found that the warming of the oceans has been associated with high rates of albatross couples breaking up.

Climate crisis is causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, however, a new study has found that it is also causing one of the most loyal animals, albatrosses to “divorce”. The study, published in the Royal Society journal on November 24, has found that the warming of the oceans has been associated with high rates of albatross couples breaking up even after accounting for the lack of fish. Researchers mentioned that in socially monogamous species, divorce is a method used to correct for substandard partnerships and is informed by measures of previous breeding performance. The environment affects the productivity and survival of populations, thus indirectly affecting divorce through changes in demographic rates. The study was authored by five scientists from University of Lisbon, University of Montana, South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute, Stanley, Falkland Islands; and Institute of Applied Psychology, Lisbon.

For the study, researchers used a longitudinal dataset on the long-lived black-browed albatross, scientifically called Thalassarche melanophris. The team tested the hypothesis that environmental variability directly affects divorce and found that divorce rate varied from one percent to eight percent, across years.

The study mentions that Albatross couples are more likely to divorce after breeding failures, however, regardless of previous breeding performance, the probability of divorce was directly affected by the environment as well. This new factor was found to be increasing in years with warm sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTA) which is forcing female birds to switch partners even in successful relationships.

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This research is first of its kind that documents the disruptive effects of challenging environmental conditions on the breeding processes of a monogamous population, potentially mediated by higher reproductive costs, changes in phenology and physiological stress.

Speaking to the Guardian, Francesco Ventura, researcher at University of Lisbon and co-author of the study noted that If the albatross fails to return for a breeding season, their partners may choose someone else. Another reason, according to Ventura, could be the shooting up of albatross’ stress hormones when waters are warmer and in harsher environments.

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first published:November 25, 2021, 17:37 IST