Global warming may be putting a serious strain on albatrosses’ relationships.
According to a recent study published by New Zealand’s Royal Society, the famously monogamous birds are separating at higher rates as water temperatures rise. The study points out that 90 percent of bird species remain with the same partner throughout their lives, and only “divorce” if they identify negative factors in the relationship, such as reproductive failures.
The separation rates are typically much lower among albatrosses, with only 1-3 percent of birds leaving their partners in search of a more optimal relationship. However, researchers found that when water temperatures are warmer than usual, such as in 2017, the divorce rate among albatrosses surged to 8 percent. When temperatures drop, so did instances of separation.
The study, which analyzed more than 15,000 breeding pairs between 2004 to 2019, found environmental conditions were becoming an increasing factor in albatrosses’ break-up rates. Warmer water usually results in a shortage of available food, which means many birds will be away from their partners for extended periods as they struggle to search for fish. Food scarcity not only disrupts a couple’s schedule, it can also make it extremely difficult for their offspring to survive.
Additionally, harsh environmental conditions can also increase stress-related hormones among albatrosses, which they can mistakenly attribute to their partner.
“We propose this partner-blaming hypothesis,” Francesco Ventura, a researcher at University of Lisbon and the study’s co-author, told the Guardian, “… A stressed female might feel this physiological stress, and attribute these higher stress levels to a poor performance of the male.”