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Wandering Albatross Birds Benefit From Increased Wind Speeds, Linked To Climate Change

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Surprisingly, climate change may actually benefit one species ... in the short-term.

The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans), which has the largest wingspan of any living bird species and spends most of its life in the air, is benefitting from wind speeds in the Southern Ocean that have increased in the past three decades, according to new research.

The results of the study, which were published this week in Science, show that increased wind speeds are not just causing the albatross to fly faster. ScienceNOW reports that the birds have, "on average, gained weight and bred more successfully."

Easier flights mean shorter foraging trips and fewer abandoned eggs. In fact, the percentage of eggs that produced live albatross chicks increased by 11 percent between 1970 and 2008. The birds have also put on weight, possibly to compensate for stronger wind patterns. According to ScienceNOW, the average weight of a Wandering Albatross has increased by over two pounds, or 10 to 12 percent of their body mass, in the past 20 years.

The research team, led by Henri Weimerskirch from France's Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chize, focused their study on albatross populations near the Crozet Islands in the Southern Ocean.

Weimerskirch explained to Discovery News, "Winds have increased overall at the world's oceans, with some areas being more affected than others, but still the increase is global. The advantage we have with the Crozet is that we have a long term record of the population parameters, and also the movements of the birds, which is a unique situation."

The oceanic wind changes may benefit the birds now, but long-term climate change may have a negative effect. The New York Times reports climate pattern predictions for the end of the century suggest storms so frequent and intense that conditions will be "unfavorable for [the birds'] dynamic soaring flights."

Wandering Albatross are currently listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. According to PhysOrg, longline fishing operations and human-generated ocean debris have had a negative impact on albatross populations.

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