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Old albatrosses give parenting last push

Old albatrosses give parenting last push - 14 March 2013. iStockphoto
News from: The University Of Edinburgh

Wandering albatrosses, famed for their massive wingspans and long lives, now have another distinctive characteristic.

University Of Edinburgh researchers have discovered that, despite a general decline in old age, these remarkable seabirds are more likely to successfully raise a chick when they breed for the last time.

Scientists from the university and the British Antarctic Survey say that like many animals, wandering albatrosses get better at rearing offspring as they gain experience.

As the birds age, their ability to provide for their young declines, most likely because older albatrosses become less capable of finding food for their young.

However, researchers have found that the albatrosses' capacity for parenting improves again when they have their final chick.

This could be because they raise the effort they put into rearing just before they die - a pattern that is predicted in theory, but rarely seen in the wild.

Hannah Froy, from the university's School of Biological Sciences, said: "By increasing the investment in the last chick, these birds may be able to capitalise on one final opportunity to pass on their genes before they die."

The wandering albatross, which has the largest wingspan of any living bird, can live for more than 50 years.

They breed on remote sub-Antarctic islands, and once paired, albatrosses usually mate for life.

Females produce only one egg each breeding cycle which both parents take turns to incubate.

They then provide food for the chick until it leaves the nest - around one year after the egg was first laid.

The 30-year study, which is published online in Ecology Letters, was supported by BBSRC, a George Macdougal Mackintosh Scholarship and the Natural Environment Research Council.

ENDS