Researchers at the University of Leeds and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology observed a dramatic increase in the number of adult guillemots deliberately attacking chicks of the same species in the last year. Hundreds of such attacks occurred, and many were fatal, with chicks being pecked to death or flung from cliff ledges.
These disturbing findings, published online today in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters(1), indicate that social harmony – even in long-established colonies – can break down when conditions get tough, for example if starvation looms. The study highlights a previously unsuspected parental dilemma: should both leave their chick unattended and spend more time feeding, or should one of them remain to protect the chick from attacks from neighbouring birds even if it gets less food?
“The attacks were brutal and usually involved more than one adult as chicks fled from the initial attacking neighbour” says lead author Kate Ashbrook, of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences. “More than two thirds of all documented chick deaths in the sample area were caused by attacks from neighbouring parents. Yet this particular colony has been monitored for almost thirty years, and in that time chick attacks have been very rare occurrences.”
Common guillemots (Uria aalge) are attentive parents and rear only one chick during the breeding season, which runs from April to July. Because chicks are vulnerable to attacks from predatory gulls, parents rarely leave them unattended, taking it in turns to find food. However, a decline in prey in recent years has led to both parents being forced to search for food at the same time. Researchers witnessed almost half of all chicks unattended at some point during the day.
Surrounded by neighbours and open to the elements, guillemot colonies are a risky place to raise a chick. Although aggression between adults is common - breeding pairs often are in physical contact and ledges can be densely packed with up to thirty breeding pairs in one square metre – aggression toward chicks is unusual.
The research focused on a large established colony of guillemots that inhabit the Isle of May in Scotland. Co-author Professor Sarah Wanless from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has been monitoring this colony since 1981. She comments: “This research highlights how fragile the social fabric of a seabird colony is. Having a stressed, hungry neighbour isn’t good news if you’re an unattended guillemot chick.”
The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.
International network connects experimental research in European waters
21.03.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
World Water Day 2017: It doesn’t Always Have to Be Drinking Water – Using Wastewater as a Resource
17.03.2017 | ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
23.03.2017 | Life Sciences
23.03.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
23.03.2017 | Earth Sciences