Rare ‘divorces’ in monogamous albatrosses are male’s fault


The albatross is an example of monogamy among birds, but on rare occasions the pairs of this sea bird ‘divorce’. A study attributes the cause of the separation to the character of the male.

The scientists of MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have found that, at least for a particular population of wandering albatrosses, if a couple divorces the cause boils down to one important factor: the personality.

In a study appearing in the journal Biology Letters, the team reports that an albatross pair’s likelihood of divorce is highly influenced by the “boldness” of the male partner. The bolder and more aggressive the male, the more likely the pair will stay together. The more shy you are, the greater the chance that the couple will divorce.

The researchers say their study is the first to link personality and divorce in a wild animal species.

“We thought that bold males, being more aggressive, would be more likely to divorce, because they would be more likely to take the risk of switching partners to improve future reproductive outcomes,” says study lead author Stephanie Jenouvrier, associate scientist and seabird expert. ecologist at WHOI’s FLEDGE lab. “Instead, we found the shy more inclined to divorce, because a more competitive outsider is more likely to force the couple to divorce. We expect that personality may affect divorce rates across many species, but in different ways.“.

Lead author Ruijiao Sun, a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program and MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, says it’s a statement that this new evidence of a link between personality and divorce in wandering albatrosses may help scientists predict population resilience.

The wandering albatross is a vulnerable species,” Sun says. “Understanding the effect of personality on divorce is important because it can help researchers predict consequences for population dynamics and implement conservation efforts.”

The new study focuses on a population of wandering albatrosses that regularly return to Possession Island in the southern Indian Ocean to breed. This population has been the focus of a long-term study dating back to the 1950s, in which researchers have been monitoring the birds each breeding season. and recording the matings and breakups of individuals over the years.

This particular population is biased toward more males than females because female albatross foraging areas overlap with fishing boats, where they are more likely to be accidentally caught in fishing nets as bycatch.

In earlier research, Sun analyzed data from this long-term study and spotted a curious pattern: exemplars who divorced were more likely to do so over and over again.

“So we wanted to know what drives divorce and why some birds get divorced more often,” says Jenouvrier. “In humans, you also see this pattern of repetitive divorce, linked to personality. And the wandering albatross is one of the rare species for which we have demographic and personality data.“.

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