Blog Post

Renewable Vibes > News > Blog > The response of Balearic shearwaters is truly remarkable, as evidenced by their behavior.

The response of Balearic shearwaters is truly remarkable, as evidenced by their behavior.

A recent study conducted by the University of Oxford sheds light on how animals are adapting to the challenges posed by climate change. The researchers focused on the Balearic shearwater, an endangered seabird species in Europe known for its remarkable adaptability.

The study authors emphasized the importance of understanding how individual animals respond to climate change, as it impacts the survival and persistence of populations. However, few studies have investigated the role of individual behavior in these population-level phenomena.

The researchers discovered that the rapid migratory range shift observed in Balearic shearwaters is primarily due to individual behavioral flexibility rather than evolutionary selection. This finding has significant implications for conservation strategies aimed at protecting vulnerable migratory bird species.

The study also suggests that animals may possess more behavioral adaptability to respond to climate change than previously believed. However, this adaptability might have hidden costs, and the long-term effects on Balearic shearwaters remain uncertain.

Balearic shearwaters are currently classified as critically endangered, largely due to declines associated with fisheries by-catch. These seabirds breed in the secluded areas of the Mediterranean’s Balearic Islands and migrate to the Atlantic coasts of Spain, France, and increasingly the UK during the summer.

The shift in their migration patterns was discovered through a collaborative effort involving researchers from the University of Oxford’s Biology Department, the University of Liverpool, and other collaborators in Ibiza.

Since 2010, the experts have been tracking colonies in Mallorca using state-of-the-art miniature geolocation devices. These devices revealed a consistent northward migration trend, with an average shift of 25km per year.

The study found that the average sea surface temperature in the summering-grounds was the best predictor of the change in migratory behavior. This suggests that Balearic shearwaters may be following changes in underlying marine resources. The researchers view this behavioral flexibility in the face of rapid climate change as encouraging.

However, despite their flexibility in changing summer destinations, Balearic shearwaters face constraints regarding their breeding locations. Migrating further north results in a longer journey back in the autumn. The researchers are uncertain how these breeding delays may affect the birds’ breeding success or survival.

The study also explored how these birds navigate such long distances. The researchers found that the route individual birds took on previous migratory journeys was a better predictor of return speed than the straight-line distance back to the colony. This suggests that birds rely on some memory of the route they have flown in the past.

The Balearic shearwaters face numerous threats, including predation, habitat degradation, fisheries bycatch, overfishing, pollution, and windfarm development. Climate change poses an additional challenge for a species that breeds in such a restricted habitat.

The study’s results suggest that individual flexibility may aid distribution shifts driven by climate change outside the breeding season. However, the consequences of climate change for the birds during breeding, when their movements are constrained by the colony’s location, are still unknown.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlights the need for further research to better understand the implications of climate change on the behavior and survival of Balearic shearwaters.

If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Also, check out EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *