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Hundreds of thousands of birds just haven’t bred after a stormy summer in Antarctica

December and January represent breeding season for seabirds in Antarctica, the time when be thousands of active nests. Bbut heavy snowstorms in the 2021–2022 season. made it difficult for birds to access their usual territories and led to the complete abandonment of the breeding of many species.

Recent study published in magazine Current biology found What, from December 2021 to January 2022, the birds practically did not nest and did not lay eggs. Breeding failures have occurred in the past, but near-total failure to breed is rare and alarming. scientists wrote in the study.

Team studied breeding in colonies of Antarctic petrels, snow petrels and skuas in Earth Droning Mod. This is a region covering about a sixth of Antarctica, which is claimed by Norway. It is home to two of the largest colonies of Antarctic petrels, as well as nesting sites for snow petrels and south polar skuas. Antarctic petrels lay their eggs on the ground, and snow petrels breed in crevices and cavitiesbut above average snow accumulation made it hard to access these areas. The researchers found that, in January 2022, Over 50% of the Antarctic petrel breeding area around Mount Svarthamaren in Dronning Maud Land was covered in snow.

The problem affects not only some birds.. Observations from 1985 to 2020 indicated that there were between 20,000 and 200,000 petrel nests around Svarthamaren. There were also 2,000 snow petrel nests. and about 100 skuas nest in a given year. But between 2021 and early 2022, there were only three nesting Antarctic petrels, a “handful” of snow petrel nests, and no skua nests. The researchers also noticed that breeding season feeding conditions were worse. Skuas feed on the eggs and chicks of Antarctic petrels and as these birds were unable to breed successfully in the 2021-2022 season, the skuas colonies had fewer food options.

“We know that in a seabird colony during a storm, you will lose some of the chicks and eggs, and breeding success will be lower,” said Sebastien Descamps, first author of the study and researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute. said in Press release. “But here we are talking about tens, if not hundreds of thousands of birds, and none of them bred during these storms. The lack of breeding success is really unexpected.”

Previous studies have shown that snowstorms intensified by climate change. Rising emissions mean a warming planet, and climate change is often associated with deadly heat And less snow. But he also changes the weather, taking what is normal and making it more intense, like more powerful. blizzards at the South Pole. So much so that even animals that should be in such an environment will struggle.

This was stated by study co-author Harald Steen. The researchers believe that because the nests were empty and there were no dead chicks, the birds saw how difficult conditions were at the start of the breeding season and simply left their usual breeding grounds. Researchers observed fewer Antarctic seabirds in flight around research stations compared to previous years. It was another allusion to how strong the snowstorms were at the beginning of the breeding season. Steen said this meant that many of the birds flew back to the sea instead of staying there.

“They are very adaptable,” Steen told Earther. “They can manage, but if the frequency of these breeding failures increases, then we expect the colonies to shrink in the long term.”

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