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Prof Emily Shepard, Swansea University

From take-off to touch down: How and when do strong winds become risky for seabirds?

At sea, wind has a profound effect on flight energetics, working with or against birds depending on their flight style and heading. Wind can also be associated with risk, including the risk of being drifted away from the goal destination and the risk of injury and mortality. In this talk I will consider when and how wind becomes risky, first taking the movements of pelagic seabirds at sea, using 11 years of tracking data from streaked Shearwaters foraging in the sea of Japan. We isolated data from 75 birds that foraged during either severe tropical storms or cyclones, which revealed flexibility in their responses to storm systems, depending on their location and the wind speeds they experienced. Remarkably, birds flew towards the eye of the storm in certain circumstances, even flying within the eye wall, where wind speeds are projected to be strongest. I will discuss what this strategy tells us about the risks associated with extreme winds, before finally considering the influence of wind on what is perhaps the most risky part of a birds daily flight routine: The landing. While landings may only amount to a few seconds of each day, the risks of injury mean that they have the potential to impact fitness and even population level processes.

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Plenary Speakers

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Dr Alex Bond,
Natural History Museum

From individuals to communities: plastic pollution, queerness, and compassion in seabird science

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Two topics have received short shrift in conservation in the nearly two decades of my seabird research career, and while they may not appear to be immediately related, plastic pollution and those from minority groups working in seabird conservation share many similarities. Plastic pollution has been called a “distraction”, and a topic not worthy of focus in the hypercompetitive conservation funding and prioritization arena. Similarly, researchers who are not straight, white, and male face barriers in science and are often told to “get over it” or “keep it to yourself”.

I will present a synopsis of the Adrift Lab’s 15-year collaborative research programme on plastic pollution at Lord Howe Island, Australia, with a focus on how we, initially unintentionally, developed this programme and aligned it with queer science. By focusing on individual responses and sublethal effects, and collaborating with a wide array of diverse scientists, we have helped raise the profile of this pressing environmental issue and brought it to new and diverse scientific, cultural, and community audiences. I will rebut the argument, heard so often in the recent past, that plastics pose little or no threat to seabirds or the wider marine environment, and how as a group we have encountered, confronted, and combatted ecogrief, personal prejudice, and professional barriers.

By bringing our whole, authentic selves to work, and working with compassion and collaboration, we demonstrate the Adrift Lab ethos: Good science happens because of good people.

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Dr Annette Fayet,
Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

Drivers of seabird movements and their fitness consequences

Seabirds are highly mobile animals, flying vast distances across open oceans on foraging trips or migration journeys. Identifying the drivers of seabird movements, and the fitness consequences of variation in these movements, is key to understanding the mechanisms shaping their ecology and ultimately to predict how their distribution and populations may be affected by environmental change. In this talk, I will present some of my research combining biologging and field observations or experiments, often from multiple populations, on North Atlantic and tropical species. I will discuss how the findings may help us identify large-scale ecological drivers of seabird movements and understand how variation at the individual or population level may affect individual fitness and population dynamics.

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Welcome Address: Insights into seabird population ecology from 50 years of research on the Isle of May

Over the course of the last five decades, seabird populations have changed dramatically in the face of a range of external drivers. For many species breeding in north-western Europe, periods of population increase during the 1970s and 1980s were followed by declines linked to climate change, fisheries and other factors. These populations now face new challenges, including the expansion of offshore renewable developments and rapid spread of avian influenza.  Further climate change is predicted in tandem with these threats, so seabirds face an uncertain future. Key to understanding and predicting seabird population trends is to quantify demographic rates, such as survival, breeding success and net movements, and to attribute changes in these rates to multiple extrinsic and intrinsic drivers.  The Isle of May study, which celebrates its 50th year in 2022, has taken this approach and in this talk I will synthesise the knowledge the study has obtained on seabird population ecology. I will also propose some priorities for future seabird monitoring and research in order to provide the underpinning evidence to inform conservation strategies.

Dr Francis Daunt

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