Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis)


Taxonomy

Also known as Amsterdam Wandering Albatross [ADWA] (e.g. Tickell 2000). First discovered by French scientists in 1977 and described as a new species in 1983. Exact relationship to Antipodean Albatross needs to be clarified.
 

Identification

Poorly known, especially at sea. Predominently brown-plumaged even in full adulthood and somewhat variable. Shows less clear cut difference between sexes than other Wandering types. The most up-to-date treatment can be found in Shirihai and Jarret (2002) which focuses nicely of the problems separating Amsterdam Albatross from juvenile island and young immature forms of Wandering-type albatross as well as older female Antipodean Albatross.

The main difficulty is separation from the very similar and possibly closely-related Antipodean Albatross, as some individuals are reported to have dark markings along the tomia. However, these are less extensive and less intense then in Amsterdam Albatross and are often finely broken into a comb-like pattern. Field work by the Southern Oceans Seabird Study Group (SOSSA) and the NSW Albatross Study Group suggests that measurements provide a reliable means to distinguish between the two similar

Click here for photos of adults, chicks and display behavior taken by Serge Pujol
 

Where and When

Breeding is restricted to Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean (Gales, 1998). Nesting occurs on an area of about 400 hectares situated on the Plateau des Tourbières, a highland plateau at 470 to 640m in an area of peat bog with an ample covering of moss. A biennial breeder with the total breeding population estimated at 15-20 pairs representing a world total of some 70-90 individuals. Reach breeding maturity after around 9 years, however may return to the island before then. Not suprisingly, the species is listed as critically endangered. Subfossil evidence indicates that the species was once more abundant on the island and is likely to have breed at lower altitudes. Habitat distruction at lower altitudes (due to a large herd of some 1,200 feral cattle and drainage of some peat bog) as well as the effects of longlining are blammed for the serious decline. In the past, birds may also have fallen victim to visiting sealers, whalers and fishermen.

Males arrive at the breeding area before the females, with nest construction beginning in February and March. The chick fledges after c.235 days. Habits away from breeding island, poorly known. Amsterdam Albatross has been recorded as bycatch on longliners operating south of Tasmania in 1992 (cited in Gales, 1998). In 1987, the number of cattle was reduced and a fence erected to seal off part of the island. A few cattle were kept within the fenced area to maintain a vegetation firebreak. Further proposals to improve the breeding success include the management of vegetation to increase ground suitable for nesting. Access to the colony by humans is now under strict control. Research is still needed to measure the population size and investigate the impact of cats and rats and methods of removing these predators. The Amsterdam Albatross has been legally protected by the French authorities, but its survival requires active management of the land, eventually leading to the creation of new areas suitable for nesting, and the strict control of cattle. The survival of this species depends on adult mortality being kept a low, natural levels (Gales,1993).
 

Photographs on the web

 Amsterdam Island web site (in French)
 Photos of adults, chicks and display behavior taken by Serge Pujol

Literature

Jouventin, P., J. Martinez and J.P. Roux. (1989) Breeding biology and current status of the Amsterdam Island Albatross. Ibis 131: p171-189.

Gales R. (1998) Albatross populations: status and threats. In 'Albatross Biology and Conservation'. (Eds. Robertson, G. and Gales, R.) Chp 3, p 20-45. Surrey Beatty and Sons Ltd.

Gales, R. (1993) Co-operative Mechanisms for the Conservation of Albatrosses. Australian Nature Conservation Agency. p16-18.

Shirihai, H. and Jarrett, B. (2002) A complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife: the birds and marine mammals of the Antarctic Continent and Southern Ocean. Alula Press, Degerby, Finland.

Tickell, W. L. N. (2000) Albatrosses. Yale University Press.

Weimerskirch, H., Brothers, N., and Jouventin, P. (1997) Population dynamics of Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans and Amsterdam Albatross D. amsterdamensis in the Indian Ocean and their relationships with longline fisheries: conservation implications. Biological Conservation, 79: 257-270.



Copyright © 2002, 2005 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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