SEGUL go to Cape Town!

By Alice Trevail.


This time last month was the 2nd ever World Seabird Conference. SEGUL was well represented as we all packed our bags and swapped the rainy UK for the much sunnier climes of Cape Town, South Africa. It was a busy week, with over 500 people from 52 countries there to talk about seabirds as global ocean sentinels. The conference provided a great opportunity to share research on ecology, demography, conservation and behaviour, to name but a few of the topics that came up.

All of us were chosen to present our work at the conference, which was a great achievement. Here’s a quick summary from each of us about our presentations, in order of appearance:

Phil Collins: I presented both a talk and a poster. My talk, ‘Different strokes for different folks’, outlined work I am currently carrying out examining flight behaviour of breeding kittiwakes. The key finding so far is that on longer flights kittiwakes flap their wings at a lower and more consistent rate than on shorter flights. My poster outlined a previously published piece of work in which I provide an objective and simple methodology for analysing accelerometry data.

Jon Green: I gave a talk which outlined an attempt to develop a physiologically-informed unified model to predict the foraging range of any species of seabird from any colony. The initial results are very promising, but it is a work in progress and I appealed for help from the community!

Sam Patrick: I gave a presentation in the symposium "Individual Variation in Movement Strategies" looking at intra-individual variability in foraging behaviour in black browed albatrosses. The results showed that older females were more generalist than younger females but that there were no age effects on specialisation in males. These results may be important in explaining how females appear to be less susceptible to senescence than males in some albatross species.

Vicky Warwick-Evans: I gave a talk about the individual based model I have been designing in order to predict the impacts of wind farms on Alderney’s population of Northern gannets. Preliminary findings suggest that if the gannets avoid wind farms entirely there will be no effect at an individual or population level. However if individuals enter the windfarm areas, even with a low collision risk there is evidence of impacts at both an individual and population level.

Rich Howells: My talk utilised long-term data on the diet and demography of a European shag population breeding on the Isle of May, Scotland. Over the past three decades - a period of pronounced environmental change - the number of shags breeding on the Isle of May has reduced substantially. At the same time their diet has also changed dramatically; from a population of lesser sandeel specialists to more generalist feeders. I have identified a number of environmental factors that may be driving this this change, in particular oceanographic conditions in the previous year. These changing conditions, most likely due to ocean warming, may be affecting the availability and quality of the shags once preferred prey, the sandeel.

Olivia Hicks: I gave an oral presentation of my work on the energetic cost of parasitism in breeding European shags. Intestinal parasites have been shown to impact breeding success in shags and my work is trying to use energetics to quantify this cost and understand the process mechanistically. Preliminary results show that flight is more energetically costly for more highly parasitized birds and, due to this higher cost, highly parasitized birds spend less time in flight. This suggests that foraging and potentially chick provisioning could be being impacted by parasitism.

Louise Soanes: I presented the results of a recent University of Liverpool led Darwin plus funded project ‘Using seabirds for Caribbean marine planning’. The main results of the project included identifying two new marine Important Bird Areas in the Caribbean region and the training local staff in seabird survey methods

Alice Trevail: I gave a three minute talk to persuade people to come and see my poster showing the full details of my masters project on plastic pollution & seabirds. This showed how plastic ingestion by northern fulmars in the high European Arctic was much higher than expected, highlighting an urgent need for mitigation of marine litter in the region. My poster, complete with 3D additions showing plastic ingestion by fulmars scaled up to human size, won the prize for best student poster.

So, why travel all the way to Cape Town?

Seabirds don’t fit neatly within national boundaries, so understanding their ecology and working towards their conservation requires international efforts by a global community of seabird researchers. This is what makes conferences such as this one so important. The seabird research community is embracing the power of technology: this year saw the first ever world seabird twitter conference, where we all got to talk seabird science from the comfort of our own sofas (search #WSCT1 to find all the presentations). However it’s the immersion in science at ‘real life’ conferences that really sparks inspiration. The coffee breaks and poster sessions (and of course pubs!) provide valuable opportunities to meet people from all over the world that are working on relevant projects. This is when you can really share specific knowledge and experience and come up with great ideas for collaborations. Perhaps at the next conference we’ll be presenting work that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for this conference. So it was great to be there as part of the Seabird Ecology Group at The University of Liverpool - as a group we got great exposure through our presentations, and hopefully we’ll be able to start some exciting new collaborations as a result.

You’ll be pleased to know that we also made the most of being there, and the world-class wildlife around South Africa! Vicky and Alice went on a day-long boat trip with Cape Town pelagics: a real must if you’re in Cape Town and don’t get too seasick! We saw countless albatross, petrels, shearwaters, skuas, orcas and breaching humback whales! The Cape Peninsula is home to nesting African Penguins, although sadly from a couple of presentations at the conference their future in our changing climate doesn’t look too promising. Straying away from marine life, some of SEG_UL also went on safari!

Seeing South Africa’s fantastic wildlife outside the conference building brought home the importance of what we were doing inside, as it adds so much relevance to the research and conservation efforts that people are striving for. We can come home from Cape Town feeling inspired in our work. Here’s to the next five years of research before the third World Seabird Conference!



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