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Climate Change: Stormy Weather Signals Difficult Foraging Conditions For Seabirds

First Posted: Aug 18, 2015 10:49 AM EDT

Stronger winds may mean troubled times for wild animals, affecting how well they can feed, according to recent findings published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, the Centre of Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and British Anarctic Survey, carried out a two-year study into cormorant-like birds, known as shags, on the Isle of May National Nature Reserve in south-east Scotland.

"In our study, females had to work harder than males to find food, and difficult conditions exacerbated this difference," Dr. Sue Lewis of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said in a news release. "Forecasted increases in wind speeds could have a greater impact on females, with potential knock-on effects on the well-being of populations."

Scientists discovered that when coastal winds were strong and blowing towards the shore, females took much longer to find food than males in the area. And as conditions further worsened, they found that the differences became more prominent between the sexes, suggesting that female birds were more likely to continue foraging even in the poorest of conditions.

Scientists note that these findings may apply to many other species in which there are sex differences in foraging. Their research, carried out as part of a long-term CEH study on the island that begin back in the 1970s, was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Journal of Animal Ecology.

"Most of the research on climate change has focused on the effects of warming, but there is growing concern about increasing wind speeds and frequency of storms," Dr Francis Daunt, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, concluded. "This study shows one way in which wind could affect wild populations, and may be widespread since many species have sex differences in body size."

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