Failure of breeding for entire populations of Antarctic birds: Antarctic seabirds are adapted to harsh polar conditions, but climate change is proving to be too much for them. A recent study shows that during the prime breeding months of December 2021 to January 2022, researchers did not find any nests in areas where colonies typically contain hundreds of thousands of birds. Climate change exacerbates extreme weather events, including heat waves, storms, and anomalous sea ice concentrations that negatively impact polar wildlife. While extreme weather events usually affect only a part of the population, this study reports complete breeding failure of the Antarctic petrel, snow petrel, and south polar skua populations in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica, due to snowstorms.
The storm caused almost complete and large-scale breeding failures, which is rare for an entire population. The study’s lead author, Sebastien Descamps, says that “having zero breeding success is really unexpected.” The research focuses on Svarthamaren and nearby Jutulsessen, which contain two of the world’s largest Antarctic petrel colonies. These areas are also important breeding grounds for snow petrels and south polar skuas.
In previous years, the colonies contained between 20,000 and 200,000 Antarctic petrel nests, around 2,000 snow petrel nests, and over 100 skua nests annually. Shockingly, during the 2021–2022 season, there were only three breeding Antarctic petrels in Svarthamaren, a handful of breeding snow petrels, and zero skua nests. The extreme weather affected a large part of the Antarctic petrel population in colonies spread over hundreds of kilometers. For birds that lay their eggs on bare ground, too much snow renders the ground inaccessible and makes it impossible to raise chicks. The storms also force the birds to expend energy on sheltering and keeping warm.
Researchers are now realizing that climate change is affecting the region more than just warming, as previously thought. While there were no obvious signs of climate warming in Antarctica until recently, new studies and extreme weather events are changing the way researchers see climate change in Antarctica. The study emphasizes the need to continue monitoring and studying polar wildlife in the face of climate change to better understand the impacts and potential solutions.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Failure of breeding for entire populations of Antarctic birds
Q: What happened to the Antarctic bird populations during the breeding season in 2021-2022?
A: Extreme snowstorms caused the entire populations of Antarctic birds to fail to breed during their prime breeding season in 2021-2022.
Q: Which species of birds were affected by the breeding failure?
A: The breeding failure affected the three most common seabird species in the Dronning Maud Land area of Antarctica: Antarctic petrels, Snow petrels, and South polar skuas.
Q: How unusual is it for an entire population of seabirds to fail to breed?
A: Complete breeding failure of an entire population of seabirds due to extreme environmental conditions is rarely observed.
Q: What caused the extreme snowstorms in Antarctica?
A: The extreme snowstorms were attributed to climate change, which increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including snowstorms.
Q: How did the snowstorms affect the bird populations’ ability to breed?
A: The snowstorms made the ground inaccessible for the birds, making it impossible for them to lay eggs and raise their chicks. The storms also forced the birds to spend their energy sheltering and conserving energy to survive.
Q: What impact could this breeding failure have on the environment?
A: The breeding failure could have a significant impact on the environment, as these birds are an essential part of the food chain in Antarctica. The loss of these populations could have ripple effects throughout the ecosystem.
Q: What does this breeding failure indicate about the impact of climate change on Antarctica?
A: The breeding failure highlights the impact of climate change on Antarctica and its wildlife. Researchers are increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change on the continent and are calling for urgent action to address the issue.