Some of the world’s most iconic seabird colonies are being driven to the brink of extinction, warns new research. Species including the Puffin, Fulmar and Arctic Tern have already suffered “catastrophic” losses as a result of avian flu over the last two years.
Now, a new study led by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) suggests that the majority of seabird species in Britain and Ireland are also likely to suffer long-term impacts from climate change that may even surpass those recent losses.
The study projects that under a scenario of 2° C (35.60 °F) warming by 2050, species such as the Puffin, Fulmar and Arctic Tern could see population declines of more than 70 percent compared to their numbers at the turn of the millennium.
The results, published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, suggest that marine specialist species – including terns, auks and petrels – are at greater risk than more generalist and adaptable species such as gulls.
Some species may colonise new areas of Britain and Ireland but for most conservationists warn that is not likely to compensate for declines in areas where they currently breed.
The study found that seabirds are generally present in lower numbers where the air temperature is higher during the breeding season, although each seabird species responded in its own way to different aspects of the marine and terrestrial climate.
But the report concludes that most seabird species in Britain and Ireland will “struggle” due to impacts from warming air and sea temperatures, as well as changes in rainfall patterns and other aspects of the marine environment.
The changes could potentially reduce food availability for seabirds or increase the likelihood of death due to extreme weather events, say scientists.
“Here in Britain and Ireland, we are fortunate to host internationally important breeding colonies of seabirds. Our research suggests that many of our much-loved seabird species such as the Kittiwake and Puffin are particularly sensitive to the negative effects of warming and are seriously threatened by climate change,” said study lead author Dr. Jacob Davies.
“Alongside the potential negative future effects of climate change, many of our seabirds are already in steep decline, due to a range of factors including overfishing and avian influenza. The better we understand the problems these iconic species face and how birds may respond to them, the better placed we will be to help them,” added BTO research ecologist Dr. Davies.
“Climate change is the greatest threat to our internationally important seabird populations. This study provides important information on potential climate change impacts over the long-term, which can be used to inform our conservation actions to increase resilience in seabird populations,” said Co-author Dr. Rich Howells, Scottish Government senior marine ornithologist.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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